Marisa O'Neil, The Daily Pilot (Costa Mesa, Calif.)
COSTA MESA, Calif. - They lined up a hundred deep Wednesday afternoon and loaded boxes, carts and baby strollers full of Christmas goodies.
For the 19th year, the Costa Mesa Police Department handed out food, clothes and toys for residents in need. Volunteers from the department and the community filled shopping carts at the Westside substation Wednesday with age-appropriate and family-appropriate gifts and groceries.
The local families anxiously loaded the bounty into all modes of transportation to get ready for Christmas.
And the giving's going on all around town.
"This is definitely the time of year people sometimes need a little extra help," said Barbara Pender, program coordinator for Costa Mesa's Share Our Selves. "They have extra family members show up, and they need more food."
Share Our Selves operates a food pantry for those in need and generally gives out about 200 bags of groceries a day, Pender said. But around Thanksgiving and Christmas, they may give out as many as 300 or 400 bags a day.
Share Our Selves also held its annual adopt-a-family event Tuesday and Wednesday. More than 1,300 families with children in Santa Ana and Newport-Mesa schools will receive food, toys and other gifts donated by businesses and residents, director of development Karen Harrington said.
Gifts come in to the Orange County Fairgrounds by the vanload and are sorted out for families "adopted" by volunteers.
"We're very blessed," Harrington said. "People are very generous."
Families needing aid don't necessarily match most people's ideas of the poor, she said. Often, at least one parent is working but barely making rent, she said.
The holiday season can place additional emotional stress on people who are homeless or just scraping by, said Michael Arnot, executive director of the Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter.
"Parents can experience tremendous guilt if they can't provide a great Christmas for their children by themselves," Arnot said.
Those struggling to overcome a substance-abuse problem can also backslide during the holiday season, he said.
The shelter provides 60 beds for the homeless each night and has programs to ease people back into being self-sufficient. They also have an adopt-a-family program and volunteers who cook special meals or even arrange for visits from Santa Claus, he said.
"We want to give people as much of an opportunity as possible to have a good holiday," Arnot said.