The scene on Saturday morning was one of people clad in blue t-shirts knocking on doors at the Bella apartment complex in San Bernardino with black plastic bags filled with free groceries, and a couple of kids on a scooter and Hoverboard meandering their way through the narrow halls and gated pool, with the smell of marijuana wafting through the thick, humid air. Curious residents peeked from behind their doors at the pile of donated clothing and shoes at a makeshift “command center” at the heart of the complex.
The group of about 30 in blue are with The Way World Outreach who hit the streets every Saturday at one of eight neighborhoods identified to be under-resourced and adopted by the church. On this particular Saturday the target area was between 42nd and 46th Streets and Sierra Way in San Bernardino. Volunteers present occupants with free food, and seize the opportunity to ask what else they are in need of.
It was in this manner that the church was established in 2004; half-brothers Pastor Marco Garcia and Assistant Pastor Robert Cuencas, in car sales at the time, rapped on doors throughout San Bernardino inner-city neighborhoods inquiring about the greatest needs of each household, and then meeting those needs with their own funds.
The Adopt-a-Block program was the foundation of what would become a thriving ministry in San Bernardino, with weekly services to nearly 7,000 parishioners. The program, regarded as the heartbeat of the mission, continues to serve the underprivileged 12 years later and remains a fundamental aspect of The Way.
“We find what people need, we meet those needs, and we love the people,” Pastor Robert said. Poverty, drugs and broken families are the major affliction of the community, he added, offering comfort through the word of God. “Over 40 percent of those we serve are on government assistance.”
Each target neighborhood is served for eight weeks before volunteers venture to the next adopted location.
“We are here to build a sense of community and to connect residents with the church’s resources,” said volunteer Michael Rivera, an attorney at Gresham Savage who has dedicated himself to the program for the last five years. “Food is the greatest need, especially towards the end of the month.”
According to Rivera safety is the next primary concern of residents; the city’s 38th homicide occurred across the street from the apartment complex.
On Saturday Joseph Gonzales and Rosemary (last name unknown) approached a resident who declined the groceries but redirected them to an apartment around the corner. A young mother apprehensively swung open her door cradling a two-week old infant. When asked whether she would accept the free food, the taciturn woman shrugged as she replied “sure,” eyes downcast, attempting to hide her self-consciousness. A toddler clutching a tablet bounded to her side as Joseph and Rosemary concluded their prayer with the young mother.
For those in need, Way Out Services, the branch of the ministry that serves the community, provides a multitude of assistance to anyone in the community, ranging from homelessness, hunger, transportation, job training, recovery, GED, ID cards, utility payment assistance and job placement.
“If someone’s lights are going to get turned off, we’ll go and pay their bill for them,” Pastor Robert used as an example. Funding comes solely from offerings and alms. “Many of the people we’ve helped in the past return the favor when they are back on their feet by supporting and helping others.”
For more information about The Way World Outreach and its services, please call (909) 884-7117 or visit www.thewayworldoutreach.org.