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Group promises change in troubled neighborhood

Robert Allen, Donnie Smith and many others have a burden to improve the lives of those living in the Denver Avenue area, which has been marked by drugs, crime and criminal street gangs.

Allen is pastor of Calvary Temple Worship Center, 2740 N. Highway 59, perhaps the closest church to the North Merced neighborhood. He is passionate about the congregation's mission to offer a hand up, not just a handout, particularly to the area's youngsters.

The church is planning food, games and prizes for area youth Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the city park near Loughborough Drive and R Street. Allen said its Operation Patches is there for the long haul, at least four or five years.

"We must not and will not remain silent to the needs of the area. It is the Great Commission. I believe we are going to make a difference," Allen, pastor of the 200-member congregation, said.

Smith is secretary of the 35-member Lion of Judah Christian motorcycle ministry and has fully committed to Operation Patches, which stands for Pointing All to Christ, Hope, Eternal Salvation. He said the motorcycle group rescheduled a weekend ride to help out with Saturday's event, which features a hot lunch for children and their parents, a food giveaway, recreation and games.

"We just love God and want to reach those who are lost, those who need a helping hand. We want to bring Christ to those in need," Smith said.

As bikers, Smith believes his group can connect with other people who have tattoos and reach people on a different level. About two dozen Lion of Judah members pitched in Sept. 22 during a four-hour cleanup effort in the Denver Avenue area, which also coincided with the church's first outreach to Loughborough area youngsters.

Allen said 175 children and 75 parents came to the September gathering. They signed a list which is becoming part of the congregation's regular outreach to area youngsters. Church members hope to visit the area's children every week, bringing food, prayer and new relationships.

Calvary Temple is shifting its 10-year outreach from the McNamara Park area to Loughborough. Allen said many of the children served years ago in the McNamara area now have their own families in the Denver Avenue area.

"We're in this for the long haul, not to throw money at it and go away. We are committed to rolling up our sleeves, not only ministering to spiritual but also to physical needs," Allen said.

Karen Callahan works with Patches' food ministry and shares the others' enthusiasm for the mission ahead.

"We don't want to see this community lost to drugs, gangs and alcohol. There is a way out. The combination of good and love makes an impact on them," Callahan said.

The church's food ministry is always available, just a phone call away, Callahan said. She said food stamps only go so far and people get desperate when they are hungry. As church workers make home visits, they will take boxes of cereal, pastries and pies, along with other food items.

Costumed Calvary Temple members were planning to go to the Loughborough area Thursday night and tonight, passing out 600 fliers inviting people to Saturday's activities during two-hour "blitzes." So far the community has welcomed and appreciated what church members have done, Allen said.

Allen said church members go into many homes where there's not a single thing to eat and that's tragic. He wants to make sure children don't go to bed hungry.

Steve Stone is Calvary Temple's youth pastor and self-described "jack of all trades" who is getting the church's two former school buses ready to transport Loughborough children to Sunday services beginning in December. A farmer and trucking company owner, Stone said their bus ministry efforts "put wheels on the prayer."

Allen stressed all key people involved in the Patches ministry have been screened and have undergone background checks. He praised the city's public works, recreation and police departments for their help with the church outreach to the area.

"It's relationship-building. We will pray with them, encourage them and minister to their needs. With the weekly home visits, we can begin to be points of light," Allen said.

Smith said it all starts with the kids, getting them on the right path. Allen said the real work begins when about 20 church workers make the regular home visits with people in the area. He hopes other churches will get involved in the outreach to the Loughborough area.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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