The SUV with tinted windows rolled up to the Big A sign in the parking lot of Angel Stadium.
Out jumped Sheriff Don Barnes, equipped with a variety of gadgets and devices to help him and a team of deputies conquer a complex challenge:
Construct a mini-house made entirely out of diapers.
Organized by HomeAid Orange County, Thursday’s “Builders for Babies” served as a rally for collecting essential items such as diapers, food, wipes and other hygiene items for homeless families.
On June 20, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department joined 10 local homebuilders in HomeAid OC’s fifth-annual countywide diaper drive for a friendly, all-day competition to construct diaper houses while benefiting and bringing awareness to the growing need families have for essential baby items.
Armed with two dozen doughnuts, a portable tool case and a tape measure secured through his belt-loop, Barnes surveyed the scene before him and watched competitors including Lennar, Brookfield Residential, and William Lyon Homes install custom-sized windows, plants and even water features to temporary structures.
“Judging by the crews out here, it’s not about winning,” Barnes said with a laugh. “It’s about being involved with a team to help the community. The win is connecting with others and giving back.”
According to HomeAid, there are 466 families experiencing homelessness and 120,188 children living below the poverty line in Orange County. With a need of 4,820 diapers in the first year of a baby’s life, vulnerable families face a crisis of buying food or diapers.
Through the HomeAid OC Essentials Diaper Drive, over 1.2 million diapers and items were collected last year, said Gina Scott, HomeAid Orange County interim executive director.
“We recognized agencies were struggling with the cost of diapers and we knew we could gather the masses and do good, serving the families and getting them to the next housing community,” Scott said. “The end result here today is fun, and we’re so appreciative for everyone’s support.”
For 10 years, OCSD held diaper drive campaigns and Barnes had judged past competitions, but this year, he wanted to participate in construction efforts.
With 54 donated diaper boxes, Barnes and Assistant Sheriff Bill Baker, who both have worked on home improvement projects, envisioned creating an Old West Sheriff’s homefront, featuring a shingled roof, porch, paneled door and hitching post.
Deputies Aubrey Jensen and Natalie Valdez and nurse Erin Martinez took box cutters and cut rectangles out of cardboard for the roof.
Barnes and Deputy Pete Chavez hammered nails into plywood for the porch as Baker sawed piles of lumber for the frame of the house. The team assembled plastic piping for bars on the window and a door hand-made by Baker and his wife that they bordered with wooden logs.
The build, though, wasn’t without hiccups.
After the crew raised the outside wall, the department’s sole generator went out.
Meanwhile, other contestants operated cranes to lift tools and building materials for their professional-looking mini structures.
“When we got here the morning of the build, we didn’t know cranes were allowed,” Barnes joked. “It would have changed our plans significantly.”
With the power restarted, Barnes and crew peeled and stuck a wallpaper design resembling weathered wood planks onto the diaper boxes that served as the face of the home.
“I’m feeling optimistic,” Barnes said.
An awards ceremony for the building competition took place the following day with celebrity judges recognizing winning teams Meritage Homes and National Core for their creative builds.
The teams of homebuilders who competed with the OCSD to build the best homes and structures made entirely of diapers included Brookfield Residential, Lennar, Meritage Homes, National Core, The New Home Company, William Lyon Homes, DuPont Tyvek & Energy Inspectors, Greater Sales & Marketing Council/BIA Next Gen and HomeAid Inland Empire.