The Orange County Rescue Mission Chili Van Mobile Ministry has been in operation for almost five years, helping the homeless communities in Dana Point and Santa Ana. But Michael Murphy, a volunteer with the Tustin-based organization had a hard time finding traction in Huntington Beach.
"It started off slow. You would have been shocked," he said. "We drove around parks looking for homeless people our first Monday. We couldn't find one soul."
But slowly, the Chili Van found some grip and the amount of people they help has begun to increase, Murphy said.
"Our numbers over the past three Mondays have grown significantly," he said. "It's gone from two, three or four people to 11, 14, 16 and 18 people."
The Chili Van, which can hold enough chili to serve 500 people, has been visiting Lake Park every Monday evening for the past nine weeks to help the homeless in Huntington Beach.
On a windy Monday afternoon, tucked away in the southeast corner of Lake Park, Murphy and a handful of volunteers catered to homeless, making sure they had food to eat and clothes to wear.
The group of volunteers served around 10 homeless people that afternoon, giving them bowls of hot chili, a slice of pizza and a pretzel or dinner roll.
Additionally, donated clothes, small bags filled with toiletries and other amenities were handed out.
Murphy credits the slow start to the trust that needed to be established between them and the less fortunate in Huntington Beach.
"It's not that there's not a need, but it's about do the people in need trust that we'll be there on a regular basis," he said. "But once there's a trust that we'll actually be there, then they'll ride the bus or they will beg friends for rides or leave a safe location or a shelter that's warm for the night to come have chili. If we don't show up here every Monday, then they'll never come back again."
It's only a couple of weeks into spring and the weather is still cool, but as temperatures climb and summer comes around, Murphy said he expects more than 100 people to show up at the park.
Jerry Ostler, a volunteer with Mariners Church in Irvine, has helped Murphy and his efforts in Huntington Beach since the first day.
Ostler, a 49-year-old Newport Beach resident, said his experience for the past nine weeks has been eye opening. He added that his 6- and 8-year-old daughters ask him every week if they will be helping the homeless.
"[The homeless] want to know that they're included in society," he said. "I was talking with one person a few weeks ago and he just wanted somebody to talk to. If they have that, then that really helps, knowing that people go by them and say hi to them and know they're name."
A homeless man that goes by the name of Stevie Ray was one of the few that stopped by to grab a warm meal from the Chili Van.
The 42-year-old is on his third stint of living on the streets after he was unable to find steady work more than two months ago.
But after going to services at Mariners Church and finding his faith with the Christian community, Stevie Ray believes God put him back on the streets not as a punishment, but to help his fellow homeless.
"They need passion, kindness and understanding and not everybody is out here because they're on drugs or they have a drinking problem," he said. "Some of them are out here because they got knocked down financially and they were one paycheck away from being out on the street."
Because this is the third time out on the street, Stevie Ray said he is in the process of writing a book, a survival guide, to help other homeless people learn how to survive on the streets.
"This book is going to teach them how to pack and carry what they need," he said.
Besides his survival book, Stevie Ray said the Chili Van is a great program and that there should be more of these on the street.
"There's people out here that are coming. They're getting clothes that they need and getting fed," he said. "There's volunteers out here finding what they can do to help us. They are servants for the Lord our here. They have a heart of a servant and they want to serve their fellow man. They recognize that this county has a huge problem and it's called homelessness."
Stevie Ray believes that in our economic state, more people will become homeless but at the same time more will be willing to help, he said.
"Homelessness hits close to home. And if it stirs something in you to help them, that can't be a bad thing," Stevie Ray said. "People need to come together and work together because we need to take care of each other and not hurt each other. There are people out there that want to hurt people that are vulnerable, but [the Rescue Mission] is the complete opposite and the Lord stirred in them something to do to change someone's day. This may not get them off the street, but it makes their existence on the street today, and possibly tomorrow, better."