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Meeting practical needs opens doors

Leonard Barajas, who has received help from SART, is involved in delivering produce and groceries to others in his Fresno neighborhood. Photo: North Fresno Church

USMB congregations found creative ways to assist individuals and families in their churches and communities as states issued stay-at-home orders and businesses closed in an effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. In some cases, churches revamped existing ministries to meet the abundance of needs and in other situations initiated new programs to minister to those in crisis. This is one example.

The Social Action Response Team (SART) at North Fresno (Calif.) Church is busier than ever as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to pastor of outreach Loren Dubberke.

Formed in 2003 to address needs of under-resourced families living nearby, SART and its volunteers have a heart for serving, reaching across socioeconomic lines and impacting the neighborhood, Dubberke says.

The coronavirus has only magnified challenges in Fresno, which, according to the Brookings Institute, ranks second in concentrated poverty nationally, meaning neighborhoods in which more than 40 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line.

Even before COVID-19, Fresno experienced a high unemployment rate compared to the state and nation, and the jobless rate is increasing because of the pandemic, Dubberke says.

Leonard Barajas has felt the impact first-hand. Laid off from his job in construction as a result of the coronavirus, Barajas is facing an uphill climb to support his family of seven.

Barajas and his wife live in an apartment with their five children, who range in age from young adult to age 5. After Barajas lost his job, one of his two young adult daughters carried the family as the only member with work.

SART offered Barajas’ family food vouchers and help with rent, as well as paid for Internet costs so his sons—a college freshman and high school senior—could continue classes online from home. SART also provided a computer, printer and funds for a textbook.

“They made me feel comfortable where I didn’t have to feel like I had my hand out,” Barajas says. “They made me feel like a human being, that I can actually ask and not feel bad about it.”

Barajas has found occasional work and help with resume-building through Fresno Area Community Enterprises (FACE), a 501c3 faith-based neighborhood resource and training center started by NFC, as he continues to seek full-time employment.

“They build me up as a person,” Barajas says. “They’ve … taught me how to embrace God, to be a Christian and just be a better person for my family, for my kids, for our community.”

During the pandemic, SART continues to help people like Barajas.

SART has met COVID-19-specific needs by distributing homemade masks and cleaning supplies and working with individuals from NFC’s neighborhood released early from the county jail. Beyond immediate needs of phones, bikes, bus tokens and clothes, these individuals need work, housing and legal help, Dubberke says.

SART has also subsidized counseling costs and helped with medication co-pays, and has served elderly families by moving furniture, providing computer help and delivering groceries. Relationships display mutual support and a holistic love.

“SART provides a great starting point to build new relationships and share the gospel,” Dubberke says. “When we meet a practical need, it opens the door for connecting with neighbors and pointing them to Christ who motivates us to love and good deeds.”

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