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Helping those in need

Nonprofit group The Pantry hosts a free farmers market in Costa Mesa, handing out items just in time for Thanksgiving.

November 23, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck
(Becky Yeh, Daily…)

David Huie stood by more than 150 frozen turkeys stacked next to him and handed them out one at a time to the men and women filling into The Lighthouse Church in Costa Mesa on Saturday.

Since 4:30 that morning, families in need and elderly residents having trouble making ends meet lined up to get inside for a free farmers market just in time for Thanksgiving.

Huie was surrounded by more than just turkeys, as cereal boxes, carrots, onions, other fresh produce biscuits and green beans — everything needed for a holiday meal — filled the room.

Once a month, Huie and Stephanie Chang host that free and fresh market at Lighthouse through a nonprofit called The Pantry.

Funded by donations, they buy fresh food from food banks and bulk stores. If it doesn't meet their standards, they send it back.

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When the doors open, anyone in need is free to fill their cart with as much as they want, for free.

"It's very hard to get fruits and vegetables in a lot of places," Chang said.

That lack of healthy food is what drove her to start the free market.

For about eight years, she'd hosted a feeding for homeless residents, but she saw families with homes start showing up too.

Chang met a mother who would walk from Harbor Boulevard to John Wayne Airport at 4 a.m. in the morning and work two jobs.

On weekends, she would leave her son with a dollar to buy instant noodles at a discount store.

"He was so skinny," Chang said.

At that point a year and a half ago, she decided to start the free market.

On Saturday, kids waiting in line with their parents made Christmas ornaments and could check out books from a makeshift library.

Chang and Huie want families to feel welcome. The two repeat one word when talking about The Pantry: "abundant."

"There's not any other places we know of that give like we do," Huie said. "That part of the calling really does come out of our faith."

After an orientation for volunteers and a prayer, Chang was excited to get back to the kids and parents.

"I'm going to pass out hot chocolate — from Belgium by the way," she said before diving into the line of hundreds of people that stretched around Lighthouse's parking lot and down the block.

More information is available at thefreepantry.com.

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