West Sacramento church serving homeless looking for its own new home

Published: Thursday, May. 8, 2014 - 9:16 pm
Last Modified: Monday, May. 12, 2014 - 9:57 am

It’s Tuesday on Yolo Street in West Sacramento’s Bryte area, and after a short lull, New Discovery Christian Church’s food pantry is buzzing again.

“We need boxes for Mike, Barbara, Anna and Miss Pauline,” Rolis Quero-Wheeler says, assembling cardboard boxes while Paul Barber counts and sorts the produce, bread, meat and canned goods that will make up meal deliveries for the church’s neediest inside the cramped garage that is the pantry’s temporary home.

After a decade, New Discovery Christian Church continues to minister to the margins – the addicts and the newly sober, the homeless and those who once were, like Quero and Barber – even as the church searches for a new home.

Much has been temporary for New Discovery since April 20, the church’s last service before the lease ran out on its former space, an abandoned benevolent hall on Fourth Street in the city’s Washington neighborhood.

Area developers months ago purchased the Fourth Street property, but allowed the church to stay through Easter. The Rev. Jerry Green said he understood the decision to clear the building and has no beef with the property owners. West Sacramento is in the midst of a building boom with developments coming to life in nearby Raley’s Landing and the Bridge District. Securing the land just makes good business sense, he said.

There are very few buildings in the city suitable for a congregation of 200, Green said, and the church struggles to afford rent. Food donations come largely from gleaners, local food banks, supermarkets and a pizza franchise.

But in the weeks since their move, Green and parishioners have learned to be resourceful. A teen drop-in center on Merkley Avenue now plays host to the church’s Bible study twice a week. The church’s food pantry sits in the garage of an imposing two-story Craftsman on Yolo Street, a recovery home known as “God’s House.” An outdoor food ministry where homeless people can get a sack meal encamps daily on Second Street, under the I Street Bridge, part of a loosely formed “mercy coalition” of local churches.

Come Sundays, services are 10 a.m. sharp in the cafeteria of Riverbank Elementary School on Carrie Street near Bryte Park.

A church member whose children once attended the school gave Riverbank Principal Mike Woodcock a call. New Discovery contacted Washington Unified School District, which oversees West Sacramento’s schools, to work out the permits.

“The district is very good about sharing space with the community,” Woodcock said. “I was thrilled. We’re really happy to have them out here. The more we can have things go seven days a week, people think of it as part of a community, not just a school that’s open Monday through Friday.”

Green and his wife, Sharon, founded the West Sacramento church 10 years ago after years of preaching in their former hometown of El Dorado Hills. A couple of years before starting New Discovery, Green was asked to occasionally lead Saturday services at a Baptist church in West Sacramento. He was soon approached by the faithful there to start his own church.

“We looked to see where God wanted us to start a church. It took a while,” Green said, before the church found its Fourth Street home.

In the years since, Green’s ministry has been a busy one in a ZIP code where poverty is rampant and jobs are hard to come by. Between 2008 and 2012, unemployment in the 95605 ZIP code was 17 percent, while the median household income of $38,000 was more than a third lower than throughout Yolo County.

About 28 percent of residents in the ZIP code surrounding the old Fourth Street church site live below the poverty line. That is nearly 10 percentage points higher than the 19 percent who live in poverty countywide, according to the latest census statistics.

The Greens’ ministry is a personal one as well. A son’s battle with addiction “gave us the understanding and the heart for those who were struggling,” Green said. Now clean, Green’s son also works with parishioners at New Discovery trying to kick drugs.

“Recovery is a strong part of our church. Nobody in the church gets paid – it’s all ministry,” Green said. “When we started focusing on recovery and focusing on the homeless and the poor, that’s when (the church) started to grow.”

“They’re very fine people – fine people doing critical work,” said Richard Strock, a Los Altos real estate agent who previously owned the Fourth Street property and allowed New Discovery to use the space.

But neighbors complained about the homeless who gathered at Fourth Street, and now, Second Street, for services and food.

On Wednesday, Jeff Lyon of the Washington Neighborhood Group, one of the loudest voices opposing services for the homeless in West Sacramento, called on police to shut down the food giveaways at Second Street. He cited city codes that prohibit organized gatherings on public property without permits.

“Now they’re handing out food on public property. Now they’re all congregating on Second Street,” Lyon said. “We’re asking the Police Department to enforce the law. We’re asking the police, ‘What’s going on here?’ We don’t want them feeding the homeless in our neighborhood.”

Green said police visited the food giveaway Wednesday and asked him to obtain permits in the future.

Meantime, he hopes for a permanent church to continue to minister to the city’s neediest.

“Our wishes are ... being involved in a ministry for the poor, homeless and addicted,” he said. “We are motivated to transition these people.”

Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040. Bee staff writer Phillip Reese contributed to this report.

Read more articles by Darrell Smith

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