CAPOC Steps Up: Southwest Community Center
By Dianne Anderson
Anti-poverty activist Connie Jones officially retired in August, but is still trying to pry away from the family food pantry that became the mission of her lifetime.
During the next few weeks, she is finishing up the final touches on paperwork to hand over the reins to the Community Action Partnership of Orange County.
CAP-OC acquired the Southwest Community Center of Santa Ana, the building and programming, and also taking on two of its employees.
Jones said the decision has been a while in the making. About six years ago, she notified the board that she would retire in five years.
In the past 40 years of service, the food pantry has fought hunger, but dealt with deep funding challenges in the last few years. Two years ago, they decided to merge with CAP-OC.
Jones said she is confident that the agency can handle the demand because they are mandated by the government to have a three-part board, including public officials, representatives from the low income community, and businesses.
Even so, she did not take the move lightly.
She and the board considered a few different scenarios, what the transition may look like, but especially that it retains the character of programs modeled after her grandmother, Annie Mae Tripp, the program’s founder.
At one point, the Board and family suggested trimming back services to keep the center like it is.
“What do we do, keep going down and can’t keep the doors open? That would be a disservice to the community at large,” Ms. Jones said.
When things were good, the program served about 300 a day for meals, but that dropped to about 175 meals for breakfast and lunch. Under the new model, services are expected to expand with a family resource center. CAP-OC can now bring in afternoon and evening programs to benefit the whole family and community.
“They have already expanded to [offer] financial literacy. They’ll be able to bring in counselors if families need it. They’ll bring after school programs, and programs to empower families,” she said.
The agency is also pursuing funding to get case managers on location.
The facility is about 4,000 square feet with storage, a conference room, an office upstairs, three offices downstairs, a serving room for up to 100 people to sit down to meals, along with a laundry shower and commercial kitchen.
She believes the full array of services would make her grandmother proud.
After all this time, giving up control may take a little bit of adjusting, but she is making herself available for suggestions during this transition.
She is also looking forward to moving to Nevada to be closer to the grandkids.
“Change is going to happen,” Ms. Jones said. “I just hope and pray they do their due diligence in serving the community, getting to know the community. That is a key thing, to continue that trust that’s always been there.”
The center also met with the Neighborhood Association to hold their Christmas party together, and assure them that CAP is there to serve them, and learn their needs, and how they can build upon it.
This Thanksgiving, they are looking to serve about 250 people. For Christmas, they will continue their annual Adopt a Family with a party on December 21.
After that, she’ll be looking for personal time to unwind. She thinks it should feel like a vacation for about six months.
“The Urban League is there, other food pantry ministries are going on. I’ll find something to get involved with from afar, not taking frontline responsibilities,” she said. “It will be on my time.”
Gregory Scott, president and CEO of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County, said he is excited about the transition, and finally see some movement to get more services underway.
He said they are looking forward to expanding into Santa Ana where they can make a big impact, and grow more programs.
“It won’t happen right away but over time, we will not only preserve what’s offered there but find ways to extend services that will really be something that we can all be proud of,” he said.
From his perspective, the Southwest Community Center has a long, rich history of serving the community that involves decades of the tireless dedication of Ms. Jones and her grandmother.
He feels the vision is a great fit for the mission of Community Action Partnership of Orange County, and that it is very important to preserve her legacy.
“It wasn’t a hard sell for us, me and my board and staff members, meeting with stakeholders. It was just a good fit for what we do as an organization in our mission of fighting, a war on poverty,” he said.