Nearly 400 people were served a home-cooked turkey and ham dinner at the Dec. 22 Outpouring Community Christmas Dinner at the Oakhurst Community Center.
It was the ninth year for the event, originally established in 2009 by Destiny Training Center and the Epicenter Prayer Group. For five years Rebecca Kohout of Coarsegold coordinated the event with the help of her mother and father, Steve and Audrey, and her 13 siblings.
New to the event this year was the involvement of Pastor Frank Saldana and 30 members of his faith-based Inner City Action group from Stockton. In addition to the volunteers, Saldana brought a truck load of clothes and food for the attendees.
Saldana and his wife of 20 years, Kim, recognized a need within the city of Stockton nearly 20 years ago - the need to bring hope and restoration within a struggling community. In 2009, the Saldanas enlisted the help of 12 volunteers and began focusing on areas of prostitution, drug addiction, homelessness and poverty-stricken families. Their outreach consisted of providing food, clothing, and hope to those in need.
“Originally we wanted to meet the needs of those that are often ignored, neglected and forgotten,” Saldana said. “With lots of community support, we successfully established a consistent food outreach program targeting thousands of needy families and individuals living in Stockton and the surrounding communities. Recognizing there is much work to do, we continue to joyfully serve.”
The couple are passionate about bringing awareness, education and change and are dedicated to reaching and restoring struggling communities.
The day after the Oakhurst event, the Saldanas opened a new Inner City Action location in Fresno and have plans to open a location in North Fork in the near future.
“I was approached by North Fork resident Dean Murphy at a Fresno event and he said he liked what we were doing and wanted to show me a location in North Fork that he would provide for us if we ever wanted to open an outreach location in town,” Saldana explained. “In addition to the space on Main Street, we are already fixing up a house in North Fork that we hope to have open in about a month. We will be placing a ministry team there to serve the needs of the community.”
Saldana said he is also looking for a location in Oakhurst to serve the people of the community.
Saved my life
One of the Inner City Action volunteers passing out food for people to take home after last Friday’s dinner was Kaela Jenkins, 41, a single mother of five (ages 3, 7, 12, 19 and 22) who was recently homeless for about two years when a Stockton police officer asked her if she wanted help.
“I said yes and he called Inner City Action and they came and picked me up right away,” Jenkins explained.
She was working as a dietary aid at a seniors facility for about a year but lost her job due to drug use two years ago. She also lost her children who went to live with her mother.
“I got mixed up with the wrong people,” Jenkins said. “Pastor Frank and his wife helped me find God. They saved my life and now I’ve been clean and sober for more than a year. I’ve seen my children four times in the past month, and I’m so happy now. Now I’m giving back to people who are in need of help just like I was.”
“Kaela’s turn around has been very fast and we were able to reconnect her with her children immediately which gave her the hope, the desire and the passion to get back on her feet,” Pastor Saldana said. “We hope to help her find a job real soon.”
This year’s event was coordinated by Charity Challis with the help of volunteer cooks from the community and volunteers who assisted at the event.
The cooking teams provided the turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, stuffing, and sweet potatoes. Area grocery stores donated a large supply of breads, pastries and desserts, and Starbucks provided coffee. About 50 volunteers worked at the event, including members of the sheriff department’s Citizens On Patrol unit.
All the children attending the event received books that were handed out by Santa (Pat Mierkey).
Cast members from Heather Sconce’s recent production, “It’s a Wonderful Life - the Musical” performed for the gathering.
Sponsors included the Mountain Bear Fan Club, Mountain Christian Center and North Fork Christian Center.