IRVINE, Calif. ─ For the seventh consecutive year, in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday, people from various walks of life, ages, and ethnicities joined together in Irvine to harvest vegetables. Through this activity, they help feed some of the 400,000 people that are at risk of going hungry each month in Orange County.
In his 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Martin Luther King said: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
Mae Ussery, an Irvine resident who teaches social sciences at Santa Ana Valley High School, delivered the opening speech to the gathered volunteers Monday. Before getting to the work of gathering vegetables, participants introduced themselves and discussed what was most meaningful to them about Martin Luther King Day.
Lilian Ramirez and Laura Chanan from the Volunteer Center Orange County, and Darcy Fehringer from the Anti-Defamation League of Orange County/Long Beach worked together to organize the volunteer event.
The work of some 160 volunteers at Irvine’s little known Incredible Edible Park will provide enough food for nearly 16,000 people.
In the morning session, 90 volunteers, mostly from Santa Ana Valley High School, harvested 2,000 pounds of cabbage and broccoli. In the afternoon, about 70 volunteers including cub scouts, students from Cal State Fullerton’s Volunteer Service Center, University of California Irvine students, and families added nearly another 2,000 pounds of vegetables.
Bruce and Els Johnson from Buena Park brought their three daughters to the event. “This is a day for all ages to help our community. We are here to create a tradition for our family,” said Bruce, 44, a Cal State Fullerton Alumni. “We hope that the kids will like it enough that they will come back.”
Els added that she wished to teach her daughters a real-life version of “The Little Red Hen.”
In the children’s story, the Little Red Hen asks others to help her at each step in the process of baking bread. All the other characters refuse to help until it’s finally time to eat the bread. Els wants to teach her daughters that food doesn’t come from the supermarket and money doesn’t come from the bank. She wants them to learn the entire process.
“People struggle to get this food to us,” her husband said.
A native of Belgium, Els, 37, said her family had picked strawberries while living in England. “But, this time is different,” she says, as daughters Kenya, 8, Skye, 6, and Savannah, 3 months old, would not be able to eat their pickings.
As the Johnson family was busy harvesting, the boxes, filled to the brim with 40-50 pounds of vegetables, were quickly running out.
Sam Caruthers, Orange County Harvest Coordinator from the Second Harvest Food Bank in Orange County, couldn’t let the young volunteers’ enthusiasm go unanswered. He resourcefully put together damaged box parts so that they could continue gleaning.
Thanks to Caruthers’ efforts to stretch the boxes, more of his neighbors now have something to eat. The food collected will be accessible to more than 390 non-profit agencies including soup kitchens in Orange County.
The Incredible Edible Park, at 15058 Harvard Ave. Irvine, operates year round, 6 days a week. As many as 1,200 volunteers work at a time. If you wish to help feed the hungry in Orange County, contact Sharon, with Second Harvest Food Bank Orange County, at (714) 771-1343. More information is also available at www.FeedOC.org. For information about other opportunities to volunteer in Orange County, contact the Volunteer Center Orange County at (714) 953-5757 or visit www.VolunteerCenter.org.