“The young people of Modesto make a lot of bad news, but there’s a lot of unreported good news out there.” This is the message Wade Patton, a Salvation Army youth pastor, wants to get across.
Patton, a Modesto native, seeks to improve his community by using its young people in outreach to the impoverished. Through his youth group and the Salvation Army’s food distribution program, Wade has led groups of young people through an experience of discovering their community in a positive light.
The program, which uses federally issued resources to distribute food and other commodities to the greater Modesto area, doesn’t benefit only the impoverished, Patton said. “There’s so many different facets. … It’s not just the church or the impoverished, but the whole community that benefits. It builds awareness, as well as meeting the need, and that’s our heart’s desire.”
Wade first recruited his students to help out of a desire for them to experience their community in another light. “I wanted to show the youth what we do, and the best way to do that was to get them involved … I wanted them to see somebody less fortunate than them.”
Danielle Bush, a 15-year-old student at Modesto High, describes how the experience has affected her own life, as well as that of those she aims to serve. “Before, I was not really a social person, but handing out food and interacting with people I never knew before has impacted me a lot. Seeing other people smile that really don’t smile a lot, and seeing people receive something that they don’t get a lot, makes me really happy.”
Through her participation, Bush says she has grown as a person, as well as benefited her community. “When you give them the food, not only are you giving them food. … When you listen to the stories that they have, it not only impacts them, it impacts us also.”
Bush says her most rewarding experience occurred when they distributed food to a woman who couldn’t speak. “We handed her food, and she couldn’t talk, but she knew sign language. When we passed her the food, she just got so excited and started trying to shout. … She was talking to us with sign language … it was one of the best things that’s happened to us.”
Danielle says that when she prepares the food, she is also preparing herself. “Packing the boxes, I think of all of the faces, and how happy it’s going to make the people … We’re not just doing it to have fun or even to help out, we’re doing it to bring joy to people who don’t have any.”
Patton emphasizes that while food is an important aspect of their program, its heart lies somewhere else. “It’s easy to give away something to someone, and then just leave, but it’s far more impactful to look a person in the eye and then give them what they need. It’s not always food. Sometimes it’s just a listening ear.”
Zachary Senn is a home-schooled senior and a member of The Bee’s Teens in the Newsroom program.