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Ministry works to get people off the streets
Mark Mello and Pastor Frank Saldana of InnerCity Action an outreach arm of the Stockton Dream Center cook up chicken for homeless individuals and needy families along Moffat Boulevard Wednesday afternoon. The ministry has plans to be out every Wednesday to provide food, toiletries and basic supplies to those who need them. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

Frank Saldana knows what it’s like to be out on the street. 

And he knows that a hand up can be the saving grace that somebody needs in order to turn everything around. 

On Wednesday when he and the outreach arm of the Stockton Dream Center – a ministry called InnerCity Action – provided complementary groceries and toiletries and hot food to the homeless and less fortunate along Moffat Boulevard, Saldana took a position behind the grill and made sure that everything was running smoothly as people filtered in throughout the afternoon. 

But he wasn’t pushy. 

From all of his work on the streets of Stockton helping to provide services to upwards of 350 people every week – and seeing some of them turn their lives around completely – Saldana knows that simply sitting back and letting those who need the help realize that the outreach effort isn’t a chance to corral them into anything is the best way to build a relationship that will sustain. 

So far it works. 

He knows of at least one person in Manteca that had developed a wide reputation on the streets as an alcoholic and a drug addict and he has since not only cleaned up, but gotten back his family and almost all semblances of his former life. The remarkable transition, Saldana said, came from just offering the basics to those who truly need them.

“I think that the church is really the launching pad, not necessarily the destination and therefore we’re kind of like a church without walls,” he said in between turning over pieces of chicken breast on a massive barbecue. “At first when people see you come out they’re hesitant because they think that there are strings attached, but when you come back week-after-week and just keep offering to them, eventually they realize that you’re simply there to do good. That’s when things start to happen and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

With the backing of The Place of Refuge and Pastor Mike Dillman as well as the Stockton-based organization in which he’s affiliated, Saldana – an 18-year Manteca resident that says the Christian Worship Center and its recovery program helped him turn his life around – plans on being out at the Metal Tech building on Moffat Boulevard every Wednesday at 12 p.m. to provide services to the homeless community and anybody that can benefit from it. 

Starting small, he said, isn’t a concern. 

While he focused on the barbecue an entire table of shampoo sat next to bins full of bread a similarly-sized table packed with apples and bananas and pears. Basic nutrition and things that can be easily stored and taken, Saldana said, can be essential. 

And when those people get their basic needs tended to, the door opens for other avenues like recovery programs and in-community job training where those who get the help they need can give back to the communities that they used to ravage. 

“They learn to love the communities they lived in instead of destroying them,” he said. “Who better to help instill hope in than somebody who wants that kind of chance?”