Mountain Area churches have a long history of community service including Boy Scout Troop sponsorships, free community dinners, tennis shoe give-a-ways and fundraisers for numerous charitable causes.
But the Oakhurst Lutheran Church has taken the term 'community service' a step further with members of the congregation taking emergency preparedness and first aid training and the recent purchase of a trailer stocked with emergency supplies that can be used as needed throughout the Mountain Area.
Gael Irizarry and Mike Vaughn are co-coordinators of the church's 15-member group that have received 16 hours of Red Cross training in emergency preparedness, shelter operations and shelter management and an additional 20 hours of specialized training from the Madera County Department of Public Health in fire safety and medical operations.
The county receives federal and state funding to be used for emergency functions and emergency preparedness training.
Oakhurst Lutheran and Sierra Pines churches are two of four churches in the county and the only two in the Mountain Area that are designated as Community Health Assistants & Medical Care Point (CHAMP) locations by the county public health department. The churches are also used as locations for dispensing vaccines and antibiotics as needed like the H1N1 flu vaccines three years ago.
Oakhurst Lutheran Church is a certified Red Cross emergency shelter, but church members expanded their preparedness commitment by attaining a $10,000 grant from the Hilblom Foundation in San Francisco to purchase the trailer and two generators to be used during emergencies.
The trailer is stocked with a battery-operated generator, first aid kits, cots, blankets, flashlights, hand-held radios and plenty of bottled water. The second generator is for the church to be used to keep the church's lights and hot water operating when used as a shelter during a power outage.
"We realized two years ago during the big storm that knocked-out power to our area that we wanted to do more during an emergency, not only for church members, but for the community," Irizarry said. "With the grant money we were able to purchase the trailer and supplies. With the trailer we can now be mobile to help out at emergencies when called upon by the county public health department."
Vaughn is a retired Army National Guard Command Sgt. Major and was responsible for setting up the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Los Alimitos as a disaster support center for eight years before moving to Oakhurst.
"We plan with a mindset that things will not work during an emergency ... Like the storm two years ago that left the church no longer functional ... that's why we wanted the mobile trailer so we would be better prepared. If structures are not safe due to an emergency, we can take the trailer to any open area like the Oakhurst Community Park and serve people," Vaughn said.
"The great thing is that we have volunteers that go above and beyond receiving training on their own time to assist their community," said Myriam Alvarez, program manager with the Madera County Public Health Department. "We, together with Janet Stanovich from the Office of Emergency Services, provide on-gong training programs to maintain a high level of emergency awareness."
David Sebastian, church pastor, is proud of his congregation for the training they have taken and for obtaining and stocking the trailer with emergency supplies.
"Our congregation takes an active role in the community and this is something we could do to be able to address any emergency needs that come about in the community," Sebastian said.
Oakhurst Lutheran Church can also provide a shelter for animals in cooperation with the Eastern Madera County SPCA if needed.
The church in the past has done fundraising efforts for a new window frame at the Little Church on the Hill, Wounded Warriors, the Madera Rescue Mission, Helping Hands, Tender Loving Care, Toys for Tots and Mountain Hope.