Orange County Philanthropists Grant $200 Million in 2 Years, Setting New Record

By Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey is a California-based reporter for The Epoch Times.
November 18, 2021 Updated: November 18, 2021

Cynthia Esparza knows nothing of the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF), even though it may have saved her and her children’s lives.

The 32-year-old mother of three had found herself on the verge of homelessness after a series of events that started in January 2020 when she walked out of her home—her children in tow—to escape an abusive relationship with her children’s father.

“I told myself that I’d rather sacrifice,” Esparza told The Epoch Times. “I want my children to see that mom was strong enough to stand on her two feet.”

Epoch Times Photo
Cynthia Esparza and her three children. (Courtesy of the Illumination Foundation)

Eventually, Esparza and the children, aged 10, 1, and a newborn baby girl, landed in Riverside, California, where they lived in a one-bedroom rental. But after six months, the landlord didn’t renew her lease.

“I had no place to go,” she said.

So she dialed 211.

That call led Esparza to a local nonprofit, which exists in part due to the OCCF.

The foundation’s philanthropic model is simple: individuals, families, organizations, or foundations looking for ways to make donations give cash, stocks, and even real estate to the foundation, which then finds local nonprofits in need of funds.

Since its inception in 1989, it has awarded nearly $830 million in grants and scholarships and ranks in the top 2 percent in grantmaking, according to the OCCF website.

“This is a place for people, no matter their background, origins, early life experiences, they have the opportunity to rise, and to build a strong community,” Shelley Hoss, the foundation’s CEO, told The Epoch Times.

In 2020, when so many lives were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation actually had a record year for donations, over $100 million, to be dispersed worldwide. That was an $18 million increase from the previous year.

“The generosity was unbelievable,” Hoss said. “It’s a testament to the energetic commitment to giving back that we find in Orange County.”

Some of that funding helped to set up the OC Community Resilience Fund, a pool specifically for local COVID-19 response.

Locally, the foundation has given health clinics funding to help them adapt to COVID-19 needs—like needing personal protection equipment—and to nonprofits, by the dozens, that in turn help those in need of rental assistance, medical aid, or food.

“I think people are becoming attuned to vulnerable folks in our community and are wanting to make sure that they are going to have a long-term path,” Hoss said.

One of 600 beneficiaries worldwide of the Orange County Community Foundation’s largesse is the Illumination Foundation, based in Orange, California.

There, Esparza and her children got a roof over their heads, but also so much more.

Esparza’s oldest son was given a laptop for his classes. Both were provided counseling, and Esparza was able to work, as daycare—complete with diapers—was provided for her little ones.

“I cried when the daycare told me that I didn’t have to worry about bringing them diapers,” she said.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of the Illumination Foundation)

“I don’t know what she would have done,” Paul Leon, co-founder of Illumination Foundation, told The Epoch Times. “And then you had three young lives who would have been totally disrupted. It’s those little nuggets and safety nets that people don’t realize that you need that money coming in for that community support.”

After spending six months at the Illumination Foundation’s emergency housing, Esparza moved into a new home in La Habra, California.

For the first time in years, she said she feels settled—both emotionally and physically.

“I could never repay them for what they provided, and I will forever keep them in my heart,” she said.

In total, the foundation has given out $200 million in grants worldwide since COVID-19 began.

This year, driven by a spike in donations due to the generosity of so many concerned about helping those affected by COVID-19, the organization—which is based out of Newport Beach, California—has brought in $4.5 million to be used exclusively for Orange County nonprofits.

“When we think of what OCCF wants to initiate, its impact that’s going to be able to be sustained over time—to bring folks together that have shared a philanthropic interest, and then help these nonprofits raise exponentially more than they could on their own,” Hoss said.

Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey is a California-based reporter for The Epoch Times.