By Erik Luna
In protest of high tuition, students from East Los Angeles College pitched tents in front of the campus and occupied the school two years ago.
Through this protest, former ELAC student Esperanza Ortega went on to create The Hook-Up Resource Center in Montebello, which was started to help students in need and expanded to help veterans.
Starting from a humble list of 20 clientele, Ortega and her partner William Valenzuela, a Marine veteran, were able to expand their client base to more than 500.
“We realized that there were some students that were homeless and so we decided… to open up a place for them. Somewhere they can come out and get clothing, get help getting shelter and hygiene products,” Ortega said.
The center is a non-profit organization that gets help from various organizations such as Goodwill of California, Volunteers of America, People Assisting The Homeless and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).
Since its inception last year, the center has received computers from the YMCA to assist in tutoring and also food to give out every Thursday.
“We used to start out with brown bags with sandwiches, string cheese basically a lunch,” Ortega said. “Now, we have gotten to a point where we give away large bags of food every Thursday.”
According to Ortega, the center has now implemented a food pass, in which every time someone receives food they get a hole punched in their pass. Ortega said it’s a necessary step to maintain order during those busy days.
With plans to expand to an East Los Angeles location by summer, Ortega and Valenzuela are juggling a huge workload.
Along with giving food out every Thursday, The Hook-Up was able to provide 80 families with a Thanksgiving meal this year. Ortega and Valenzuela offer their time to Care Ministries, a non-profit organization based out of El Monte, in exchange for food they can give out at The Hook-Up.
Students from Pasadena City, Cerritos, and Rio Hondo colleges, as well as ELAC, volunteer at the center to tutor elementary, middle school and high school students.
“We ask (students) to come after school and we work with the parents. It’s free tutoring and we can provide school supplies such as paper and pens,” Ortega said.
The Hook-Up, which is located on 923 W. Whittier Blvd in Montebello, has hosted various events, including an art show that former ELAC president Farley Herzek attended.
According to Ortega, the Hook-Up will no longer have shows at the center, but they will host events upstairs in La Terraza Jamay.
“There is a new owner, John Crist who owns the ballroom Memories in Whittier, and he is one of our great supporters,” Ortega said. “So, instead of having shows and charity events at the center, we can have them upstairs now.”
Former ELAC student Angie Rincon, who started the occupy ELAC movement, has been with Ortega since the beginning.
“A lot has changed since we first opened, from cosmetics done to the center to board of members. The Hook-Up is part of an auxiliary with the disabled veterans and works close with the city of Montebello promoting good humanity.
“I say humanity because Esperanza has no limitations on who (she) helps, (its) not just Vets, not just students – she welcomes everyone at the center and goes above and beyond to try to help,” Rincon said.