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Holiday food, gifts destroyed in Santa Ana soup kitchen fire [Updated]

December 15, 2009 | 10:57 am


A late-night fire damaged a Santa Ana soup kitchen and destroyed $50,000 in food and holiday gifts that were to be distributed to needy families this weekend.

The fire began a little before midnight Thursday at the Southwest Community Center in the exterior patio area, where the food and gifts were being stored, and moved inside through the office and kitchen, said Capt. Chris Caswell, a spokesman for the Santa Ana Fire Department.

Firefighters extinguished the flames in about 30 minutes, but the damage has left the center temporarily inoperable. Investigators are still looking into the cause of the fire, but it appears to be accidental, Caswell said.

The center serves breakfast and lunch every day to more than 200 people and dinner on Saturday, said executive director Connie Jones. People went to the soup kitchen this morning for breakfast, not having heard about the fire, Caswell said.

The center began at the home of founder Annie Mae Tripp and moved into the building, a former pet shop, in 1971, said Jones, Tripp’s granddaughter.

The center still has some food supplies and gifts in off-site storage, and Jones said the staff is trying to figure out what to do next.

[Updated at 2:09 p.m.: The center will accept donations at the Orange County United Way, 18012 Mitchell Ave. South in Irvine, for the next three days. The city of Santa Ana will allow the center to shut down the street in front of the soup kitchen Saturday and hold its holiday party for needy families and seniors there.]

-- Raja Abdulrahim

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Photo: Director Connie Jones, center,  and longtime volunteers Elsa Alvarado, left, and Jessie Allen hug  after fire damaged the Southwest Community Center in Santa Ana. The center has served meals to the needy for more than 30 years. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times