Former English professor Jan Rainbird does a lot of cooking at St. Timothy’s Church in Laguna Niguel where he cooks for the homeless and working poor who gather each afternoon in a parking lot at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point. There, folks who have fallen on hard times find food, blessings and hope.
“We have food coming in from various sources, Rainbird said. “It’s my job to make it into some sort of palatable meal.”
Jeanne Karcher is with Welcome INN – which stands for Interfaith Needs Network, one of the organizations implementing the program, now in its 20th year.
“We don’t ask for ID, we don’t ask for anything,” she said. “We let anybody who wants a meal get a meal.”
The organization is 100% volunteer.
It’s not just meals that Welcome INN supplies. As client Jimmy Pockets explained, “I’m so grateful these people are here. It’s a real blessing. Last week they gave me a shirt.”
Pockets said he’s been coming to the dinners for two years now. He learned about the program when he came to Orange County and money got tight.
“Now I’m living on SSI [Supplemental Security Income]; before I got that, things were really bad.”
Joe Perez, another client, said he’s been coming to the dinners for 10 years because he has physical disabilities and it’s hard to cook food.
A CLIENT PLAYS A SONG FOR HER COMPANIONS DURING DINNER CO-SPONSORED BY WELCOME INN AT DOHENY STATE PARK IN DANA POINT. PHOTO COURTESY OF SPENCER GRANT.
“I have cerebral palsy but I’m Catholic and I say prayers every day before we eat,” he said. “I’m not homeless but there’s a lot who are, so I volunteer to come down and help.”
In the parking lot along with Welcome INN is iHope or Interfaith Homeless Outreach for Empowerment. Volunteer Lana Fiore explained that they collaborate with case workers in both Dana Point and San Clemente to offer help with housing, doctor appointments, emergency financial assistance, food stamps, weekly showers and communicating with families.
“They do the hard stuff,” added Karcher. “We just help them get a meal.”
Other participants include St. Edward’s in Dana Point, Corpus Christi in Aliso Viejo, Catholic Charities and the Boy Scouts.
Another organization present at the dinner is Safe Room, which provides shelter and phones for homeless youth.
“It’s really nice to meet people who are hungry and be able to tell them to come down to Doheny Park and you’ll be fed,” explained Margie Herzing of Safe Room. “It’s so much fun to have somebody walk away and know their life’s changed because of this vehicle for help.”
Welcome INN president Don Lemly said he is grateful for the 40-plus contributors including community organizations, retailers and concerned individuals who help make the program such a success.
Speaking of the clients, he said, “The mix is about 40% people who are housed, but they’re mostly day laborers.”
Lemly pointed to the high rents in Orange County as a major problem facing day laborers in the area.
“Five guys might be staying in one room and if they can save five bucks on dinner, it’ll help them make their rent.”
Lemly recalled the story of a guy who stopped coming to the dinners back in 2008. One day he ran into him at Costco and asked where he’d been.
“I was very lucky, he said. I got my job back but thank goodness you had those meals. They kept me going when I didn’t have a job.”
“When you provide food, you provide hope,” added Lemly. “Our goal is that Welcome INN would be delighted to show up to serve dinner some evening and nobody shows up because they’ve all been taken care of. Numbers have gone down and that’s thrilled us.”