Mary’s Kitchen, previously a soup kitchen in the City of Orange, had its grand reopening as a mobile food pantry on Oct. 27.
Since then, CEO Gloria Suess and staff members distributed food items to those in need. While the first pantry was set up in the Anaheim Marketplace, the non-profit rotated locations between Anaheim on Thursdays and Westminster on Saturdays. Its previous eviction has left the local homeless population in a precarious state.
Mary’s Kitchen was evicted from its property located in the cul-de-sac of West Struct Avenue by the Orange City Council on June 10, after serving the local homeless community for over 35 years. Previously operating on strictly volunteers and donations, the soup kitchen was the only place in the city that indiscriminately served all who walked through their gates.
The organization provided daily cooked meals, showers and mail services. Its services contrasted those of other local homeless shelters such as the Placentia Navigation Center, which has a strict policy against walk-in aid, requiring a referral process for entry. This not only thickened the barrier for an individual to receive aid, but it also filters out those who may not have the adequate educational background to fill out forms.
Over the last decade, Mary’s Kitchen experienced an increase in clientele as the city faced a rise in its homeless population after the enactment of Proposition 47 in 2014 — a policy that reduced drug possession offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor — and the clearing of the Santa Ana riverbed of over 700 homeless encampments in 2018. These policies displaced many unhoused individuals that did not have access to government resources. While the city worked to provide motel vouchers for individuals interested in public housing options, those that refused turned to Mary’s Kitchen for food sustenance, hygiene, and mail services.
Mary’s Kitchen was forced out of its lease agreement by the City of Orange after being mailed a 90-day eviction notice in June 2021. According to the city, Mary’s Kitchen’s services did not create clear pathways toward housing the homeless. Instead, they left dependent clients that loiter around the surrounding businesses, spurring crime. While Mary’s Kitchen had invested in security improvements such as hiring security personnel, installing cameras and strengthening its loitering policy, the city remained firm on its decision.
“The clientele [of Mary’s Kitchen] has shifted … to those of drug addiction problems, those suffering from mental illness, or those who sustain their displaced lifestyle through crime,” Orange Assistant City Manager Bonnie Hagan said during a city council meeting. “Providing meals without the right ancillary support mechanism enables this type of homelessness.”
Just before its eviction date, the soup kitchen was able to obtain a temporary restraining order that delayed its expulsion and allowed for renegotiation with the city. Judge David O. Carter used that time to negotiate an injunction the following November, extending Mary’s Kitchen’s relocation period until June.
“The city issued the termination notice without authority, or any opportunity for pre-deprivation due to process, and on an unconstitutional basis,” the restraining order reads, according to the LA Times.
It went further to argue that the absence of Mary’s Kitchen would deprive the local homeless of basic food and hygiene services, as it is the only homeless services provider in the city that accepted adults without children. The city had also not provided a clear plan as to how it would replace Mary’s Kitchen’s services.
In April, the city solidified a plan that involved the assistance of the OC Hub, a city-owned homeless services program. They would provide the homeless with free brunch, showers and mail services. OC Hub would also provide pathways into assisted housing to all those willing through associations such as the Orange Police Department’s Homeless Engagement, Assistance & Resource Team (HEART).
Suess and city officials were able to agree on the termination of the lease agreement after a thorough inspection of the replacement services was conducted by Judge Carter. The city is expected to provide these services for at least a year.
Despite support via petitions and donations, Mary’s Kitchen was unable to retain its location. An agreement was signed by Suess and Mayor Mark Murphy to remove the property by June. They were unable to find a suitable location that matched the caliber of its former proceedings being situated beside a police station.
The site north of Mary’s Kitchen is being reconstructed as an apartment complex for low-income residents, containing 62 affordable housing units. The complex will be accepting federal Section 8 housing applicants.
To the south, the city has been in close negotiation with the freight and logistics company Prologis. Drafted plans have already arrived past the approval process for a 58,000 square ft truck terminal hub with over 600 trucks routing along Struck Avenue. The erection of the truck facility insinuates the city’s ulterior motive for evicting Mary’s Kitchen.
Prologis was required to submit a Mitigated Negative Declaration, gauging the proposed truck hub’s environmental impact on local residential communities. Mary’s Kitchen was not included in this assessment, implying that the city already had intentions to carry out the eviction to make space for its construction.
Beyond the services given, clients of the soup kitchen also valued the community that was fostered at the site — much of which can be attributed to Suess. She had taken over the operation after founder Mary McAnena passed away in 2003. For over 25 years, she has been organizing the facility, making sure it lived up to its motto: “A place where everyone is welcome.”
Many sent dozens of thank you letters to Suess during the final days of Mary’s Kitchen’s operation.
“They treated you like family … Mary’s Kitchen made you feel at home, made you feel comfortable, made you feel safe. It was a safe haven for a lot of us,” Tammy, a long-time client, said in an interview with LOSALTV STUDIO 1.
For now, Mary’s Kitchen operates as a mobile food pantry, providing groceries to everyone they can. OC Hub currently operates at the original site at the discretion of the city.
Kane Hong is a City News Staff Writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.