As a promoter and manager of undiscovered talent in OC, John Safari is used to giving opportunities to local bands most of us never knew existed. The founder of the artist development collective Orange County Music League says his ears are perpetually open to new music. But his latest venture with the Santa Ana-based collective opened his eyes to the swath of homeless who spend every night camped outside the Santa Ana Civic Center, less than five blocks from OCML’s office.
Anyone can agree that Safari's new plan to host monthly clothing and food drives in front of the Santa Ana Civic Center is a good deed. And utilizing local musicians and businesses to help the cause makes it sound even better. For the past two months, bands and promoters from OCML have stockpiled food and clothing for the homeless as part of an initiative that’s getting ready to turn up the volume.
Starting January 31, Safari is throwing a brunch at 4th Street Market that doubles as a food and clothing drive on the last Sunday of every month. The brunch will feature performances from OCML bands, comedians and other local talent. The main goal is to create a community of musicians who spend time thinking about something other than their big break.
“We’re growing a more compassionate community this way because no matter what it gets people thinking about other people,” Safari says.
After each Sunday brunch, the food and supplies donated will be prepared and distributed to the homeless on the first Thursday of every month. With the help from 4th Street Market and other local promotion companies Twisted Soul Entertainment and 1st Degree Entertainment, this charitable event is already becoming one of the most altruistic movements to come out of OC’s music community in 2016.
“I didn’t even know how bad it was [at the Civic Center] and how many people slept outside over there until we went out and fed them,” Safari says. “You see a few homeless people walking around and you think it’s pretty bad but you go to the Civic Center and you go 'holy shit there’s thousands of people here.' And the city’s not taking care of it, it’s in their parking lot.”
Safari and his crew of volunteers shot video documenting their first event to feed the homeless outside the Civic Center just before Thanksgiving, where they were able to serve hot meals to over 200 people. Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market is allowing OCML to use their test kitchen to prep meals free of charge. The Robin’s Nest Wine Bar is also donating food and supplies to help the effort.
Everything from the cooking, serving and donations is handled by local musicians, many of whom owe plenty of gratitude to Safari for getting them gigs or distributing their music under the OCML banner. South County punk band The Alientated and OC rockers Dreams of Vertigo are two of the bands that have been most helpful in the initial stages of the OCML event, donating clothing for the cause. For Kenny "Feezy" O'Brien, bassist for The Alienated, helping out with a drive like this is especially significant. Last year, he and his band elected to spend several months living in their drummer’s van to experience in some small way what it was like to be homeless.
“As a band we say that if you wanna change something in the world, you have to experience it," he says.
Parked outside the drummer’s family home in Laguna Hills, the band lived, ate and slept in the van. They only allowed themselves to use the drummer’s garage for band practice. Kenny and his band's guitarist/lead singer Scott Gordon then spent an additional seven weeks living in Gordon's four door sedan sleeping in the front seats. By the end of his experience, O'Brien says he emerged with a new appreciation for the simplest things he'd taken for granted.
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“We realized that a lot of the clothes we had weren’t good enough to keep us warm and comfortable, we were more focused on looking good than being comfortable. That’s one thing we totally overlooked.”
It’s also something that most people overlook when donating to charity. While food is nice, Safari says it’s better for people to donate warm clothes, tarps, tents and blankets that will help people keep warm and dry, especially in with another El Niño already upon us.
“Nobody thinks about the small things—like the fact that you really don’t wanna wear the same underwear 5 days in a row,” Safari says. “And it’s really hard for any of these people to get laundry done so even a laundry pass would be amazing, or bus passes—-the things that people aren’t really thinking of are the things they need.”