October 20, 2021

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

Garden Grove nonprofit provides rental assistance and food as pandemic leaves many in need

As the pandemic economy continues to claim new victims, the Community Action Partnership of Orange County is providing utility and rental assistance, food and other support services to those in need.

As the operator of the OC Food Bank — one of the two major food banks in the county — CAP normally delivers about 25 million pounds of food a year. That number has significantly increased.

CAP President and Chief Executive Gregory Scott said the number of boxes delivered to seniors nearly doubled at one point.

As the unemployment rate increased dramatically in the early summer and has tapered down to about 9%, Scott said CAP has been able to be there for the Orange County community, though the organization is also figuring out how to adjust to the pandemic like any other business.

“We probably had a 400% increase in the amount of food that we were giving out and unemployment went through the roof,” Scott said. “We went from 2.4% unemployment to probably close to 19% unemployment in a matter of 30 days, let alone those who are underemployed. So all of that kind of came together and we are very grateful that we were in position to help feed people.”

Aside from providing food to the community, CAP, which is based in Garden Grove, has also offered rental assistance, which has been funded by a CARES grant from the county and the city of Santa Ana.

Scott said they have been providing one-time support payments for individuals and also ongoing support to those who need it.

Gregory Scott is the president of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County.

Gregory Scott is the president of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County.

(Courtesy of CAP OC)

Many of CAP’s clients come from low-income neighborhoods in Santa Ana and Anaheim that have been hit hard by the pandemic. But Scott said CAP is also seeing many new clients from areas like Costa Mesa and Irvine.

Some of these clients, he said, are the “newly vulnerable.” People who used to make six figures and are now waiting in line at the food bank.

CAP is also offering workshops online that provide guidance on workforce development and financial empowerment.

Anaheim resident Norma Bernal found help in the nonprofit’s Healthy Marriage and Families program, where she learned about managing finances, creating a resume and personal acceptance.

CAP has provided support to Bernal throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the restaurant Bernal works at closed in the early days of the pandemic, she was in dire straits. She had to continue taking care of the two nieces who lived with her without an income.

CAP was there to provide Bernal with rental assistance, and she was able to `keep food on the table with the help of the OC Food Bank.

“They helped me a lot,” Bernal said. “They helped me believe again that there are good people out there.”

Norma Bernal received rental assistance from CAP OC when the pandemic closed the restaurant she works at.

Norma Bernal received rental assistance from CAP OC when the pandemic closed the restaurant she works at.

(Courtesy of CAP OC)

Then in July, Bernal was diagnosed with COVID-19 after struggling to breathe through the night. She was forced to quarantine with her nieces and once again was unable to work.

CAP delivered food to her door.

“They brought food for my girls and for myself. I was so thankful,” Bernal said.

Since then, Bernal has been able to work more hours at her restaurant job and has saved some money. She said she doesn’t require as much financial assistance but continues to use the food bank.

As the number of people in need like Bernal continues to grow, the demand for CAP’s resources increase. CAP has been able to keep up with the increased demand through donations from private organizations.

“I can go down the line of different companies that really stepped up to really support our efforts,” Scott said. “… We were only able to survive because of our partners, and our funding partners in particular, because we had to buy more food.”

The Community Action Partnership of Orange County runs the OC Food Bank.

The Community Action Partnership of Orange County runs the OC Food Bank.

(Courtesy of CAP OC)

However, Scott has concerns that CAP may not be able to keep up as the pandemic continues to fuel high unemployment rates.

The amount of people needing assistance from CAP may increase as many individuals who enrolled in unemployment have now run out of payments. Orange County’s economic recovery may also be stalled because thousands of jobs are linked to the tourism industry, he said.

Scott is worried that the organizations that came to CAP’s aid early in the pandemic may not be able to provide financial help in the near future as those businesses suffer losses.

“If the economy is being challenged, that means a lot of corporations we normally get money from are being challenged too,” Scott said. “We live and die based on donations … We’re concerned about 2021 and 2022.”

Scott also said that funding for the rental assistance program ends in a few months.

“We have to hope that there’s going to be additional funding for those programs to continue, so we can continue to help the thousand people we do help through rental assistance,” Scott said.

CAP is currently running its annual Hope for the Holidays fundraiser through Dec. 11. Community members can provide a holiday meal or sponsor or adopt a family.

For more information on the fundraiser, visit
capoc.org/hope-for-the-holidays/.

To donate to the Community Action Partnership of Orange County, visit capoc.org/donate/.

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