Tour '214 Sq. Ft.' At Second Harvest Food Bank

214 square feet.

This is the average size of a motel room—a space that some children in Orange County often call "home" as their families struggle with homelessness. It's hard to imagine, but thanks to an extraordinary multi-media art installation, you don't have to.

"214 Sq. Ft." is currently on exhibit at Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County in Irvine.

Next to towering rows of donated food items and adjacent to Izzy's Corner sits a full-size interactive reflection of what life as a "motel kid" looks and feels like. A dresser crowded with trophies, books, and a TV; a corner stacked high with storage bins; canned food lining the small kitchen counter; a makeshift children's bed on the floor; no refrigerator; sadly, these are scenes of the cycle of homelessness. While not all homeless families reside in motels, many double-up or even triple-up with other families in apartments and houses. Space and privacy wane. Daily tasks like homework seem nearly impossible to accomplish. 

Created by set designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella and his wife, anthropologist Christine Hegel-Cantarella, in collaboration with Claire Trevor School of the Arts at University of California, Irvine (UCI)—and with special support from the brothers of Project Hope Alliance CEO Jennifer Friend—the immersive model aims to raise awareness of homelessness in Orange County via ethnographic data meets aesthetic experience. Since Fall 2012 the environment has exhibited at various community places, including St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Applied Medical Campus, SOCO Collection, UCI, Saddleback Church, and the Balboa Bay Yacht Club.

Friend was one of these "motel kids," having struggled with homelessness in Orange County in her youth. Thankfully, her family of six uplifted itself out of homelessness, and she has made it her life's work to ensure that a child's future is never determined by their parents' economic circumstances.

During my junior high and high school years, my three brothers, our parents, and I often packed our lives into 214-square-foot motel rooms in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, and Garden Grove. At one point we lived in one motel room for eight months straight. Feelings of shame, lack of privacy, and an economically inconstant childhood created an environment where the basic elements of being a kid were sometimes lost. At times, even the idea of being able to express my needs seemed like a luxury.
— PHA CEO Jennifer Friend

Childhood homelessness data from the U.S. Department of Education is shocking. According to the department, one in every 30 children in the country experienced homelessness in 2013. In Orange County, it's one in six - more than 32,000 children. At 6.5 percent of total enrollment, Orange County has more homeless or housing-insecure students than the 4.8 percent California average, with a higher percentage than neighboring Los Angeles and San Diego counties, per the California Department of Education. In Orange County, families with children make up 70 percent of the homeless population. 

Project Hope Alliance exists to mend the chaos in the lives of children and families struggling with homelessness, and to ensure that they never, ever give up. Where there is hope, there is a future of endless possibility.
— PHA CEO Jennifer Friend

Team Kid recently toured "214 Sq. Ft." at Second Harvest, and we invite you to do the same. Food Bank 101 Tours of their 102,000-square-foot distribution center are open to the public on the first Wednesday of every month from 3-4 p.m. The exhibit is one of the tour's most popular stops, and puts our mission and Second Harvest's mission into perspective. Reservations are required and can be made by emailing [email protected] or calling 949-653-2900.

Orange County's largest hunger relief organization, Second Harvest works to end hunger in the county through an impressive food distribution network. The charity organization feeds 200,000 people every month, distributing 9,000 boxes per quarter from three distribution centers at 50 community partner locations across the county. Volunteers fuel their mission every day of the week, restocking food items from major partners like Target, Walmart, and Starbucks. Second Harvest helps eliminate waste by receiving food items that would otherwise be discarded—like a box of cereal with a flawed label. Even if just one box is "damaged," the entire palette is dumped into the trash.

Together,

we are ending the cycle of homelessness,

one child at a time.