Impacting thousands of lives—one hot dog at a time

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

Our union owns a custom-made red trailer with a gigantic propane grill, and we use it to barbecue hot dogs. It has always been affectionately known as the “hot dog wagon.”

A hot dog wagon may not sound high-brow enough for the opinion section of a major metropolitan daily newspaper. But you’d be surprised at how the simple act of cooking a free lunch can impact lives — and has, in fact, impacted thousands of lives. You also might be surprised to hear about how all of those people who have been touched by the hot dog wagon responded when it was stolen last week, along with a freezer full of 2,000 frozen all-beef dogs.

The OCEA hot dog wagon has been part of our union’s identity for more than a decade. The nurses, law enforcement officers, courtroom clerks and other county workers on the union’s board of directors thought it would be a great way to deliver hot lunches on the job to all of the municipal workers throughout Orange County who keep our communities safe and healthy.

Over the years, the hot dog wagon also became an important way for us to support issues that would improve Orange County.

For example, the OCEA hot dog wagon serves lunches to homeless veterans during Orange County Stand Down events. We have served thousands of hot dogs to veterans, including during the annual Veterans Day community celebration we help host at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

The hot dog wagon has also served thousands of low-income children during an annual Toys for Tots event that was hosted for years at the Santa Ana Zoo by now-Congressman Lou Correa. It supports an O.C. District Attorney’s Office-sponsored GRIP camp, which is aimed at gang prevention for kids. And it appears annually at a Kiwanis Club event in Santa Ana to support disabled children.

It has provided the food for a fundraiser to save a shelter for abused women from closing. It has supported community celebrations in Costa Mesa and Anaheim, and greeted participants in bike races throughout Orange County’s beautiful park systems. It even hosted inaugural events at the State Capitol for Gov. Jerry Brown.

So, last week, we were crushed when we arrived at work on Monday morning and discovered that thieves had destroyed a lock in the secured parking area, cut the chain to a mechanical gate, and gotten away with our property. They stole not only the hot dog wagon, but also a van, the freezer, two refrigerators, tables, chairs, canopies, chips and bottled water.

In the days that followed, those who have been impacted by the hot dog wagon sprang into action. Tips came in identifying the location of our stolen van — and within a day it was found! An incredible investigator from the Santa Ana Police Department tracked down a cache of our stolen property at a Santa Ana home, including the freezer that was plugged in and still contained the 2,000 frozen hot dogs. Santa Ana CSI officers combed through property and fingerprints, and went above and beyond to help bring our property home.

We received calls from around the county from people who learned about the heist on social media, offering to loan us their grills so we could continue with scheduled events.

The hot dog grill itself is still missing, and we have spent the past week putting together plans to replace it.

But the experience has really demonstrated how the simple act of reaching out to someone with a kind gesture, in a world that is so busy, really matters. It mattered when we served free lunches throughout the community. And it deeply mattered to us these past two weeks when so many people reached out with offers to help.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: April 14, 2017