It’s been 65 years since Modesto Gospel Mission opened its doors in the wake of an early Billy Graham crusade in the area. Using $5,000 left over from the crusade, which drew more than 26,000 people over 10 days, Christian businessmen opened the doors to the mission on Eighth Street in 1948.
The mission has moved – to H Street, and then its current home on Yosemite Boulevard in 1982 – but its goal remains steadfast: minister to the body and soul of homeless folks by providing a hot meal, a bed for the night and a message of salvation and hope through Jesus Christ. The face of the homeless have changed from those post-World War II days to include younger men – and women and children. And the mission has expanded its services to include addiction recovery programs, a children’s Safe Zone, medical and dental care, resources such as free clothing and furniture, plus a computer lab with employment services, among other programs.
The organization, which is supported solely by private donors, is preparing for its annual fund-raising banquet Oct. 8. It has three main projects to share:
• Remodeling the bathrooms for the New Life (residential addiction recovery) men’s program: $70,000
• New mattresses for overnight guests, 100 beds total: $12,500
• Funds to expand the New Life program for women (new building with additional beds): $1.5 million to $2 million
The fund-raiser will feature historic videos and guests in addition to the usual testimonials from those who have benefited from the Gospel Mission’s services. The Rev. Ben Jennings, who was the Youth for Christ leader when Graham came to Modesto, and Esther Lundell, one of the Modesto Musicettes who sang at that 1948 crusade, will share the spotlight. Photos and stories of past mission leaders will be highlighted, and Vern and Barbara Deatherage, who led the mission for more than two decades until retiring in 2011, will be honored for their years of service.
“We’ll be playing some old Billy Graham footage. We’ll sing some songs from the 1948 crusade,” said Kevin Carroll, who was named executive director in May. “We contacted the Billy Graham organization, and they didn’t have any film from the 1948 crusade, but they sent us some from his 1949 crusade in Los Angeles.”
Carroll, 52, once worked as a Stanislaus County probation officer and spent the past six years running a men’s homeless shelter in central Pennsylvania. Before he started at the mission in June, he said he spent a night there as a client, going to a church service, eating dinner and spending the night in a large room with bunk beds with other homeless men.
“It was rather humbling,” he said. “I was given food; I was given clothes; I was given a shower. I still remember I was given bed Number 39. It was pretty interesting to talk to the folks and relate to them as one of their own. I got a good snapshot of what they go through during the day and the services the mission provides. I was reminded that ‘there, but the grace of God, go I.’ I’m so thankful for the blessings I have and the reminder not to take them for granted. It’s a privilege to minister to those folks.”
The Gospel Mission serves more than 150,000 meals a year. This summer, it provided more than 4,600 overnight accommodations each month. That figure, Carroll said, will rise when winter weather hits.
In addition, Carroll said, “We always need general operating funds.” The mission operates on a $2.3 million annual budget. “Eighty-five percent of that goes back into the program,” he said. “We have a medical clinic, too. We’re always looking for help for new equipment for that.” And there’s always a need for more volunteers. Nearly 100 of them turned out last month to serve 1,560 hot dogs and give away 1,200 backpacks full of school supplies to needy children.
“We’ve been so blessed to have a great donor base and a lot of volunteers,” Carroll said. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”