FAIRFIELD — Brian Brown, 11, was left holding the bag. His friend, Darrell Reddick, 9, labored behind a shovel.
Brown and Reddick were two of the nearly 50 volunteers who gave up time last weekend and joined with faith-based Operation THUGS, which stands for The Harvest Unit Gathering Souls, to clean up a homeless camp.
“If we don’t do it, no one else will,” Brian Brown, the father of the 11-year-old with the same name, said Saturday. “Everyone needs help.”
Operation THUGS is a collection of Christians, some of whom have cut ties with their past that included being in a gang, using drugs or alcohol. Members minister to those who are often invisible to society: the homeless, prostitutes and gang members.
The camp was discovered at Christmastime. Since then, Operation THUGS and volunteers have been delivering food and clothing to the residents. Then, one of the camp’s inhabitants spoke up and said the help they really needed was to get the camp cleaned up. They were facing an eviction.
Larry Bluford Jr., president and founder of Operation THUGS rallied local churches, as well as Fairfield City Councilwoman Pam Bertani and Solano Garbage operations manager Tony Cincotta, to get behind the idea.
A donated Dumpster was delivered a day before the cleanup. When volunteers arrived the next morning, it was nearly filled.
“The homeless have started cleaning up already,” Bluford told the volunteers. “That’s more of a blessing. They are trying to help themselves.”
There was still plenty of work to be done. So much, in fact, that in addition to a full Dumpster, volunteers also filled several industrial-strength plastic bags with trash.
Once Bluford knew of the camp, he said he couldn’t turn away.
“Knowing that people slept there when it was raining, my heart bled for them,” he said. “They are people, too. A lot of them are rejected all day.”
Some people, he said, are just one choice away from being in the same situation.
“Any one of us could be that person,” Bluford said. “It could be they just took a left turn instead of a right turn. A lot of them just need a little hope.”
Ariel Ramos was one of the volunteers. He said he lived on the streets once.
“A lot of these people I know,” he said. “I was homeless a long time.”
He remembered people passing by and not acknowledging his existence.
“You come to believe no one loves you,” Ramos said. “We want to show these people some love.”
Message received, said one resident of the camp.
“I’m speechless,” he said as the volunteers arrived and went straight to work. “I never thought there were so many people that cared.”
He spent the previous afternoon and evening tossing things in the Dumpster.
“I feel I need to give something back,” he said.
The health ministry at Mount Calvary Baptist Church sent Nicole Barnett, a registered nurse, and Hope Glenn, a gastrointestinal technician, to do a quick assessment on the camp’s inhabitants who wished to see the pair. They tended to a wound, listened to some coughs and referred patients to health and social services.
“It’s all about doing what we can,” Barnett said.
“What we do is a ministry,” Glenn said. “We’re here to do God’s work.”
Tony Adams of Mount Calvary’s evangelism team praised the effort.
“The walls are broken down,” he said. “Praise God.”
Cleanup took about 90 minutes, thanks to many hands. A variety of items were found, including a baby stroller, car headlight and a good-size chunk of a seat from a car. Residents from other homeless camps also showed up to pitch in with the cleanup.
For information about Operation THUGS, visit www.operationTHUGS.org.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.