To help us stay positive during these challenging times, we’re sharing uplifting stories in Orange County. Be sure to check out the May issue of Orange Coast for many such profiles. Check our homepage each day for O.C. Steps Up—anecdotes about your neighbors doing whatever they can to lift the community.
Messages of hope and unity are popping up in yards across Orange—handcrafted, community-funded orange signs made of plywood. Volunteers create signs for residents to buy and display, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to purchase produce from Orange Home Grown Farmers Market farms. The food is then donated to Waste Not OC and distributed to families in need. Megan Penn, Orange native and executive director of Orange Home Grown, shares more about how this fundraiser came about.
What inspired this project?
A friend of mine, Mary Murphy, who lives a couple doors down was trying to get our neighbors to show Orange pride, and she put an email out asking people to put something in their window or do something creative to show their pride. My kids and I were getting ready to put something in our window, when my husband came home from work and was like, “What are you doing? I can make something out of wood.” So he made an orange sign and put it outside in our garden. I put it on Facebook and was trying to get other people in our area to jump in to support her call to action.
How did you come up with the idea of supporting local farms and families in need?
The executive director of the Community Foundation of Orange, Susie Cunningham, called me up and said, “Hey, I saw the orange sign and I think we can do something really cool in our community with it. Why don’t we do a fundraiser to help Waste Not OC, a nonprofit that takes food that can no longer be sold at grocery stores or restaurants and repurposes it as meals for folks in need?” I said, “Can we use 100 percent of the proceeds to buy food from the farmers in our farmers market?” We had to close our farmers market for the last month, and our small family farms have really been struggling. The food keeps growing and we don’t want it to go to waste.
How are you producing the signs?
Community Foundation of Orange approached Home Depot to see if they would donate enough material to make the first 200 signs. They stepped up, and we’ve already sold more than 500 signs. Being able to do this while also social distancing has been kind of nuts. My husband cut out 18 orange sign templates. Then we started distributing the sign templates and plywood to people in the community who were woodworkers. For example, my neighbor across the street, her kids are all home from high school right now due to the pandemic. So I dropped off 30 signs for them to start painting while they watched episodes of “Glee.” People contact the Community Foundation of Orange and Orange Home Grown daily saying they want to help and give back. They’re stuck at home and they want to volunteer. This is a really great way to do it. It’s a little time-consuming and more coordinating on our end. We have board members cutting wood, assembling signs, and delivering signs to people’s houses.
And the response?
It’s been really cool. There are signs in the plaza, in front of city hall, the fire station, the police department. Many of the dedicated doctors and nurses at CHOC and St. Joseph who live in the area have signs. They are starting to pop up in their yards all over town. It’s really great to see it grow and expand.
Have you gotten orders from outside Orange?
Yes, they’re saying things like Orange County Pride and things like that. My sister-in-law who lives in Huntington Beach ordered one for a friend who’s a nurse.
Can people still buy a sign?
Due to popular demand, we have had to stop taking orders, but a waiting list has been started. We’re selling one sign for $50 made with chalk paint. That’s the one I have in my front yard. Everyday, you can change your message. People want to use the sign to write all sorts of messaging. We have another option where people can spend $75 for a pre-messaged sign and a majority of them say “A Hero Lives Here.” A lot of people are choosing to purchase those for healthcare and frontline workers.
Visit Orange Home Grown Farmers & Artisans Market
The market is open Saturdays and operating with new safety guidelines. https://orangehomegrown.org/