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Help Needed in the Santa Ana Enterprise Zone

The Southwest Community Center is located in the Santa Ana Enterprise Zone and provides food and toys to the area needy.  On Monday its storage facility containing all that food burned down.

From the Orange County Register:

SANTA ANA – A community center that sponsored poor children and needy seniors for the holidays lost crates of food and gifts to a fire that swept through its storage patio late Monday.

The fire at the Southwest Community Center was reported just before midnight and took firefighters about 30 minutes to put out. Fire Capt. Chris Caswell said it appears to have been an accidental fire, “possibly electrical in nature.”

It destroyed hundreds of crates of food the center had set aside for meals for the needy and for a holiday party this weekend. It also burned about 100 stockings filled with small gifts, such as socks and toiletries, for poor seniors and children.

But the center had most of the donated toys and stockings for its Adopt-A-Family event in storage, off site. And, as word of the fire spread on Tuesday, other charities and food banks stepped in to help.

“We’re going to have Christmas,” center director Connie Jones said. “We’re going to have it. It just might be on a smaller level.”

The community center serves more than 100 hot meals every day to the homeless and needy. It hands out bags of groceries to poor families, helps them pay their rent and, every year, adopts more than 200 families for the holidays.

The center was also planning a holiday party for children in the neighborhood this weekend. It was expecting around 800 to attend.

Most of the toys and gifts it plans to distribute over the holiday season were safe from the fire – either in storage or not yet delivered to the center by its donors. What it lost were a few stuffed animals, about 100 stockings and lots of food.

The fire left blackened boxes of stuffing, scorched vegetables and stacks of canned food that had been melded together. Jones estimated that there were 300 crates of cans, meat and vegetables stored on the patio for the center’s regular hot-meal service, all of it destroyed.

But by early Tuesday afternoon, help was already coming in. Jones said the Orange County Food Bank and Second Harvest had offered food. The Orange County United Way announced that it would take donations for the center.

And, as dozens of people began arriving for the center’s daily lunch, a company called 1-800-BoardUp met them with free sandwiches, chips and cookies. The company had boarded up the center and then bought lunch for 150 of the center’s clients at Sam’s Club.

“I depend on this to eat every day,” said Ignacio Martinez, 47, who lives on the streets in Santa Ana. The community center, he said, “is like my home, my family. It’s just breaking my heart, honestly.”

A former housekeeper named Annie Mae Tripp started the center in 1971, after she had a dream that she was feeding thousands of people. She moved into the current building – a former pet shop on West Second Street – about five years later.

The building is still standing, but damaged by smoke and water. Workers set up a metal fence around it on Tuesday.

But center officials said they intend to go forward with their holiday plans. “We’ll do what we can to still bring the holiday cheer,” Jones said.

Contact the center at (714) 547-4073 or by email: info@swcommunitycenter.org

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