FAIRFIELD — Friday was Plan B day at the Samoan Christian Fellowship church on Western Street.
The rain and darkened skies were the dictator.
It’s food give-away, or feeding day – twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays – and it’s usually done outdoors but, said Leinati Tomanogi, leader of the Helping Hands Ministry, because of the weather, the tables of food in shopping bags or plastic crates were moved indoors.
Canceling the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m event was not an option. It wouldn’t be in the spirit of the church that prides itself on reaching out to the community and helping in any way it can. One of the church’s beliefs is, “God is the provider of everything,” Tomanogi said. They’re just paying it forward.
“The more good you do for others, it will come back to you,” she said. “We’re joyful in our heart. We’re able to help (people) in the community who need help.”
The close-knit church family of about 90 members opens its doors twice weekly as a food bank of sorts – and one Saturday a month for hot meals under its Helping Hands Ministry.
Friday, the line started as usual, before they opened. Tomanogi said they’ve given away food to as many as 240 but it averages about 180 on the days they’re open. Those in need go in five at a time, picking up a couple of bags of bread items, milk, sweet potatoes, apples, broccoli and some packaged food items.
Nicole Whitecotton juggled two bags of bread and some milk before moving on to the perishables in plastic crates. A former pharmacy technician, hard times fell after her husband left her, she said. She has four children, including newborn twins.
“Places like this have helped me and my children get by,” she said.
But it wasn’t easy for her to seek out help. She called it a “pride thing.”
“I was always able to do it on my own,” she said. “You never know where you’re going to end up in life.”
The friendly faces of the volunteers also help Whitecotton in other ways – from simply praying with her to helping her carry the food to her car when she was pregnant. They begin to forge a bond – those in need and those doing the helping.
“How are the twins?” said Tapai Asiasi, to Whitecotton as she maneuvered her bags to get some milk.
Building relationships is what they want to do, said Ben Afisivalu, the church’s secretary.
“It’s like family,” he said as he stood in the doorway watching the volunteers and community members interact. “We’re very humbled to be able to be an instrument of help to the people of Fairfield.”
The desire to help was always there – the pastor, Alex Ledoux, had an idea, a vision, of what he wanted the church to become – but not the ability back in its humble beginnings in Ledoux’ s garage in 1995. It started with five Samoan families after Ledoux moved from Fremont in 1994.
Belle and Alfred Levi were with Ledoux back in the beginning – and they’re still with him today, some 19 years later.
“It was very hard to get things started,” Alfred Levi said.
The community outreach began in 2009 when a tsunami hit Samoa. Afisivalu was put in charge of the relief effort, which attracted the Bay Area television news that helped spread the word through the community. The church sent eight 40-foot containers of relief supplies to Samoa. Subsequent tragedies brought on by Mother Nature in Chili, Haiti and the Philippines brought in more donations to be distributed to the affected areas.
“Since then, more companies were willing to donate their goods to help us meet the needs of the community,” Afisivalu said.
The ministry continued and two years ago the twice-weekly feeding program began and the church partnered with agencies such as Walden House, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, Mission Solano and Feeding Sacramento.
The church also does a hot meal on the second Saturday of every month, donates turkeys to Mission Solano each Thanksgiving and adopted Laurel Creek Park, tasked with keeping it clean. They also will randomly visit the homes of senior citizens to mow lawns and take out garbage. They’ve opened their church location to people who need a place to live. Those who need food at times other than Wednesdays and Fridays, will be helped as well.
“The pastor will never turn anyone away,” Afisivalu said.
Both Belle and Alfred Levi volunteer on the feeding days, and were there Friday. They acknowledged the fulfillment of the pastor’s dream as they looked out at what has been accomplished with the dozens of volunteers helping the community – about 1,000 community members receive services from the church’s various ministries each month.
“This was always our pastor’s vision – to help out the community and what Jesus says,” Belle Levi said. “Help . . . who needs help. This is a blessing. It feels good.”
Alex Ledoux was in Samoa at the time the article printed and was not available for comment. Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.