In preparation for the upcoming start of the school year, students of all ages made their way to Calvary Assembly in south Merced recently to take part in The Isaiah Project’s annual Backpack Giveaway.
New to this year’s event was the inclusion of free haircuts offered by local cosmetology students and professionals, as well as a selection of hygiene items made available to those who were in need of them.
The Isaiah Project got started as an afterschool program in response to the shooting death of Isaiah Romero on July 20 in 2012 at the age of 15. Romero lived with his grandmother Eleanor Romero. While riding his bike one day he became an innocent victim of local gang violence. Following the event, community and church leaders at Isaiah’s church, the Calvary Assembly of God, leapt into action to begin helping youth in the area.
As a key organizer for the event, Eleanor Romero, noted that she sees God’s hands working through the ministry as he brings more people to the event each year.
“It’s his doing, and it’s him working with the people who come to this event,” said Romero. “There are a lot of people here who really need this, because they can’t afford it, and can only go out once a month to get supplies.”
While speaking about his involvement in the project, Pastor Juan Ochoa reflected on his own upbringing in town.
“When I came here, and I was 4 years old, my family spoke only Spanish, but I spoke English, and so we’re really trying to bridge the gap between those two communities,” he explained.
To help bridge those needs, a special service booth dedicated to the Spanish ministry available at the church was made available to those looking for services in the area.
“My wife grew up a few blocks away from here and it wasn’t the richest area,” Ochoa said. “She grew up very poor where the family had to share everything, and it was a family of 10 and she was the youngest, and so she would always get the last of the hand-me-downs.”
Ochoa went on to say that his wife aided the church in bringing in the hygiene items, gift cards, and haircuts to help fill a need she was familiar with.
Additionally, the backpack giveaway event included a performance by a Christian rapper, youth activities, lunch, and a sermon by Pastor Ochoa.
Throughout the year, Calvary Assembly of God Church works with members of the community to both expand the offerings of the Isaiah Project as well as to invite residents into the congregation. Calvary Assembly of God is located at 1021 R Street, and church organizers invite those who are interested in learning more to make their way to the church.