Teams of members and leaders from nearly 20 SCC churches drove to Los Angeles’ Skid Row on Thanksgiving Eve to share Thanksgiving dinners with more than 1,000 homeless people. Initiated by Tamarind Avenue church in 1999, the outreach has since been embraced by other Greater Los Angeles Region (GLAR) churches. More recently, churches from the L.A. Metro and Hispanic regions have joined in. Participating in the outreach involves real commitment: each participating church contributes a full Thanksgiving dinner for 100 people, with table service and a serving table. Churches and members are also invited to donate new blankets, jackets, shoes, socks, gloves and more to give to the homeless people at the dinner. “I was asked by Pastor Michael Jenkins, who oversees the entire project, to coordinate the food with the various churches,” explained Dimple Fields, Women’s Ministries director for the Smyrna church. “This year, 11 GLAR churches each prepared an ample Thanksgiving menu. In addition, this year a handful of L.A. Metro and Hispanic Region churches participated or supported the ministry.
“We do what we do only to share the joy of giving thanks with those who are not as fortunate as we are,” Fields reflected. “Jesus Himself said that if we do it ‘unto the least of these my brethren,’ we have done it unto Him. Our desire is simply to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
“The Skid Row ministry is one of the truest and purest forms of community outreach,” commented Jenkins. “I do it because I feel called to be a blessing to others and to give them a reason to praise God. I also do it because it provides others an opportunity to minister. I enjoy seeing the smiles and expressions of gratitude from the people to whom we minister. I also enjoy the smiles and expressions of gratitude from the people who volunteer and serve. To be honest, those who participate and partner in the ministry inspire me the most to continue leading the ministry. I think those who participate get a greater blessing than those who are on the receiving end.
“I’ve learned that all types of individuals from every walk of life make up the homeless community of Los Angeles,” he added. “I’ve also learned how to view my personal problems in their proper perspective. When I consider the issues that the homeless community face on a daily basis, I have learned not to complain about my minor trials and to be more thankful for my blessings.”
“I’m here because, when I was at Andrews University, they sent me as a student missionary to Goiania, Brazil, for a year,” said Yudi Acosta, an Adventist who has been working for three years in Skid Row missions. “That’s where I got the taste for mission work here at home. There is so much need here.”
Acosta currently teaches ESL at two missions and shares spiritual values and encouragement with the people who live at or come to the missions. Though the area attracts a diverse group of individuals, some choose to stay homeless and resist rehabilitation, Acosta has seen lives changed. “Rick came here from Michigan,” she explained. “He is living in the Union Rescue Mission. He became homeless more than a year ago. Previously, he had completed one to two years of college, and now he is an apprentice, acquiring clerical skills and helping at the mission.”
When one student blamed his family for his drug use and his departure from his home, Acosta gently explained to the class that free will is a gift that God gave us, so that we can make our own choices. Lettie, a student who lives under a bridge, was listening. “Lettie stopped drinking when she learned that she can’t blame others for her choices,” Acosta said, smiling. “I love my work!”
The number of young people participating in the Skid Row ministry especially excited Ira Barksdale, who had previously served as youth pastor of the Rolling Hills church and SCC associate treasurer. “I was excited to see the number of members from my former church and especially excited and inspired to see the number of young people there,” he noted. Barksdale is currently the pastor of the Maranatha and Miramonte churches, which also participated in the outreach.
“One man wanted a blanket really bad,” Barksdale recalled. “My wife had given about a dozen new woolen blankets she had collected and had asked me to give them to ladies. But this man was very cold and he only had a very small blanket, like a baby blanket. ‘It gets really cold about 4-6 a.m.,’ he told me. ‘I really need a warm blanket.’ So I told him I’d help him, but he didn’t believe me at first. ‘If you will give your small blanket to someone, I’ll give you a nice woolen one,’” I challenged him.
“I believe you,” he said, and he gave it away. Tears flowed as he received the warmer blanket.
“When our young adult group arrived at Skid Row, we were excited to be participating in this event, because we were practicing Jesus’ method of meeting the needs of the people,” said Pastor Fedly Bonneau, White Memorial church young adult pastor. “We had clothes, blankets, food and water to hand out to the people, which, besides housing, are their greatest needs. The young adults from White Memorial church go out on every second Sabbath to feed the people on the streets with sandwiches, but they were amazed to see the good food that was cooked to pass out to the people. One young adult said, ‘This is a meal you will find on the table of many Americans on Thanksgiving, and here we are bringing that joy to some who don’t even have a table!’
“One touching experience occurred when we went around the block to invite people for an abundance of food. We reached a crowd of people trying to get into a shelter for the night. When they heard about our meal, they debated about whether food was more important or a place to sleep off the streets. Realizing their concern, we assured them the lines weren’t long and they could make both happen on this night.”
The small army of young adults who came out for the Skid Row outreach impressed all who came. But one individual was impressed even before arriving on the scene.
“On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving,” said Velino Salazar, SCC president, “I heard my young adult son calling other young people from our church about going to feed homeless people on L.A.’s Skid Row. So I thought I’d better join them and support this initiative. My son and daughter, along with my nephew and niece who were visiting us from Tennessee for Thanksgiving, drove with me to Skid Row.
“There I had one of the most impressive caring experiences, one that I didn’t plan for,” he continued. “I was thrilled to see dozens of young people happily active, unloading water, food and blankets to give to these indigent people. I could see that we didn’t have to go overseas to find a real mission field! We have it at the core of our territory: in downtown Los Angeles. The 52 blocks comprising L.A.’s Skid Row became the mission field for anyone, especially the young people, who had not had the experience of going on an overseas mission trip.
“I dream that in 2017 we can double or triple the number of young people participating in this experience, which provides us with a preview of what Jesus will do when He comes, as described in Mathew 25:31-46. Let’s do it again next year, but on a major scale!”