Weekend Open Thread: Batiste, Barnes, & other Unsung Food Heroes of Anaheim Neighborhoods!




Kenneth Batiste giving out melons and asparagus on Anna Drive yesterday, Councilwoman Barnes with a load of pizzas for a local senior mobile home park.

……2) So when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward. 3) But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4) so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.… (from Matthew 6:3)

That’s something I learned in my youth and took to heart, and stayed with me into my agnostic adulthood.  But some folks I know take it pretty far, and it’s hard for the rest of us not to point out all the great things they’ve been doing.

Well long story short, food insecurity in a shocking number of Anaheim’s working-class neighborhoods has been a problem long before this Virus desmadre hit – as Dr. Moreno frequently reminds us, over 90% of Anaheim’s schoolkids qualify for free school lunches.  Well, that’s nice, they get free school lunches.  Except, now their being “home-bound” all day during the pandemic not only makes it hard for them to get that free lunch but also makes it even harder for their parents to work outside the home.  Networks of impromptu neighborhood activists have been improvising ways to get them lunches at least.

So when our good friend Maritza Bermudez (from  the Pauline Street neighborhood) asked me and Donna if we knew anyone in Anna Drive who would help organize and distribute lunches here, we gladly volunteered.  And it’s been a lot of fun – an average of a hundred excited hungry kids lining up on the sidewalk at the YMCA van each day.  (Enforcing social distancing has been a challenge – but starting Monday we’re going to try to make it a game with chalked squares on the sidewalk, and me as Distancing Captain.)

Kenneth with Congressman Lou Correa

So long story short again, when we mentioned this to our pal Kenneth Batiste who lives a couple  miles away, he insisted on dropping by with a carful of produce to give away.  You’ve probably seen Kenneth at council meetings, speaking passionately in defense of the Rancho La Paz seniors or the homeless, or railing against the latest corporate giveaway.

Well, we didn’t know that for years (since around 2014) this retired probation officer and firefighter had been spending time every day picking up extra food from churches and food banks, and delivering it – at first to the homeless encampments on the Santa Ana riverbed, and other homeless encampments he’d become aware of.

More recently, he also frequently drops off food for the seniors he’s befriended at the Rancho La Paz mobile home park – the ones who have been literally forced, this past year, to choose between eating, medicine, and paying their astronomically jacked-up rents.

Speaking of Rancho La Paz, the embattled seniors there feel like they’ve been adopted by West Anaheim Councilwoman Denise Barnes – “and we’re not even in her district!”  She checks on them every day, and, along with Dr. Moreno.   Once I called her about something political and she was all, “We gotta talk fast Vern, I’m on my way to check on my mobile home people.” 

Denise and friends at Pacific Sunset Mobile Homes with food donated by Mother’s Market.

“Really, how many mobile home parks are in your district?”

“Oh, most of them are outside my district.  But they need help anyway.”

Since becoming aware of the John-Saunders-inflicted poverty at Rancho La Paz (in district 3) Denise, her husband Scott,  and a few friends have started picking up truckloads of food from various sources – the OC Food Bank (which is now starting to run out), Mothers’ Market, Pizza Hut – and handing them out – first at Rancho La Paz, then a few other parks across the city, the downtown senior center, and Higher Ground.  They have started to hit some of the poverty-filled West Anaheim motels, and are now trying to figure out how to help some of the out-of-work hotel workers during this pandemic.

But no story like this can be wrapped up without mentioning the People’s Homeless Task Force, which has been feeding the homeless in La Palma Park every Wednesday for a couple of years.  No, wait – not “feeding” them – that would be illegal – but “sharing food,” which is not.

This started in 2017 – even before the famous riverbed clearing – when the Anaheim Council brusquely closed down the Mercy House-run storage-and-feeding place across the street from the park, and our local band of rebels took it on themselves to feed dozens of homeless people every Wednesday afternoon with food donated from various local restaurants.

The coronavirus pandemic put an end to the park “foodshare,” but PHTF member, biologist Thomas Fielder, still frequently hands out prepared snack bags to whoever’s there.  Occasionally the Task Force will bring truckloads of food to the Rancho Seniors (who are one step away from homelessness), and just yesterday they prepared almost a hundred meals at Judy’s Kitchen in Los Alamitos.

But lest you think the People’s Homeless Task Force is all warm and fuzzy, it’s their lawsuit against the county and a few cities, looked on favorably by Judge Carter, that forced OC to build all the shelters they have in the last couple years.  And they’re also behind … but I had resolved to leave politics out of this post!


One more thing:  Scott Barnes said to let everyone know that ACCESSCAL.ORG is currently preparing unemployment applications for free!  (I’ll mention that in comments too.)


Let us know, in comments, about other opportunities for the needy to get food

– anywhere in the OC. 

This is your new improved Weekend Open Thread – utilize it responsibly!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.