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'Love Ceres' draws 276 volunteers
Faith-based effort brings volunteers together in service
Stephanie Robles
Stephanie Robles and other members of the Pentecostal Church of Ceres turned out Saturday morning to wash police patrol vehicles and other community service projects as part of “Love Ceres.” The washings took place at the downtown fire station. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A total of 276 volunteers, many from Ceres churches, turned out Saturday morning to carry out 17 community service projects as part of “Love Ceres.”

The response was overwhelming to event organizers Brandy and Keith Meyer. The stock of 196 T-shirts for volunteers was depleted as were the 200 breakfast burritos cooked up by members of the Ceres Lions Club offered in the Whitmore Park kick-off event.

“We had more than we had the last two years,” said Brandy Meyer. “We had 13 projects last year and this year was 17.”

One of the more popular projects that typically generate eager volunteers is the washing of police, fire and ambulance vehicles. Among them were Stephanie Robles, who was washing a Ceres Police SUV in front of the downtown Ceres fire station.

“We’re doing this as part of our church,” said Robles, who was there with other members of the Pentecostal Church on Central Avenue. Others from her church volunteered to do other jobs, including a clean-up of Central Avenue.

“We wanted to spread God’s love to the community by serving,” said Robles.

Jorge Hoggatt, a member of Valley View Church of the Nazarene was busy scooping up bark donated by California Landscape Supply of Ceres and spreading it in landscaping strips at the corner of Fourth and North streets. The sprucing up came a week before the Ceres Street Faire takes place this weekend.

“I just like to help and plus this is a pretty good workout too,” said Hoggatt, 14.

Also working on the bark project were Joey Chavez, the city’s Recreation director, volunteer Alex McLeod of Turlock who attends the Nazarene Church and its pastor, Braden Deisher.

“A good portion of us are out here,” said Pastor Deisher. “Yeah, we just kind of felt like we’re a part of the community and we need to be out here serving the community.”

Deisher, who came to the Ceres church with his wife during the middle of the COVID crisis in May 2020, said nine members of the church signed up for Love Ceres work projects.

A number of young adults signed up to paint lunch tables at Ceres High School while members of Youth for Christ painted trash cans at Blaker Kinser Jr. High School.

Work projects included picking up trash along some of the more well-traveled streets and the bike paths in Ceres. At least three homes of senior citizens were paid a visit to do some yard work.

“I’ve heard that two of the senior citizens were just so grateful about our crews going out there that one of them even broke down in tears,” said Meyer.

Diane Johnson, a retired senior who moved to Saturn Court a year and a half ago, asked for help “because the yard was out of control and I had a gardener who did a wonderful job and just one day just disappeared.” She said she was unable to find someone who would do a good job at a reasonable rate which she could afford on a fixed income.

Coming to her aid Saturday were a number of city of Ceres code enforcement and dispatchers. Lauren Medina, code enforcement unit secretary, pulled weeds while her husband Joseph Furtado mowed the grass. Mariah Hernandez also pulled weeds while Officer Jack Taylor was cleaning areas of debris.

Volunteers also worked at the homes of seniors on Running Lane and Mock Avenue.

Daniel and Kayla Martinez and their children reported to Harvest Presbyterian Church to write thank-you cards for military veterans.

Teams cleaned up Strawberry Park and Ceres River Bluff Regional Park where new trees were planted.

Meyer said this was the first year that Love Ceres provided childcare for parents who wouldn’t have been able to volunteer without the help. A total of seven children were dropped off at the Ceres Community Center where volunteers interacted with them to fill their time.

The Ceres Rotary Club provided a lunch of hotdogs, chips and drinks for volunteers who returned to Whitmore Park after the work projects were completed.

Meyer said she heard comments that perhaps volunteer efforts could be organized more than once a year, perhaps on a smaller scale, to specifically help seniors in need.

“Some of the other cities they do have their Love events where they’ll do projects throughout the year and I think we might start doing some of that yard work for the senior citizens.”

A number of other local cities and towns, including Modesto, Waterford, Empire, Denair, Turlock, Salida, Oakdale, Riverbank and Patterson all held their “Love” events on Saturday. Love Keyes is planned for 2025

The founder of the first Love Modesto event, Jeff Pishney said one of the goals is to get volunteers in the mindset to commit to a life of serving others.

Lauren Medina Love Ceres
Lauren Medina, who is the secretary of the city of Ceres Code Enforcement Unit, volunteered to pull weeds in the yard of a Saturn Court senior citizen during Saturday's "Love Ceres." - photo by Jeff Benziger
Jorge Hoggatt
Jorge Hoggatt, a member of Valley View Church of the Nazarene scoops up bark for landscaping on North Street. - photo by Jeff Benziger
Bark at Ceres Library
Volunteers spruced up the area in front of the Ceres Library with fresh bark.