Twenty-two students from the Council of President’s Scholars (COPS) at Fresno State were offered a new perspective on Jan. 29 when they packed up more than 300 hot dog lunches to give to the homeless in downtown Fresno.
Called the Hot-Dog Run, the students, together with Our Dog Ministry, handed out 312 bag lunches with a hot dog, chips and a bottle of water to hungry homeless people around downtown.
Our Dog Ministry has been handing out hot dog lunches every month for the past three years.
Along with the food, they also packed up dog and cat food for the pets of the homeless, as well as clothing donated from people and several churches associated with the ministry.
COPS president Daniel Ward believes that the purpose of the event was to give the students a new perspective on the homeless problem around south Fresno.
“It was a really meaningful experience for everyone that took part,” Ward said. You hear about the homeless problem, the poverty, that’s in Fresno, but you never really understand until you can put a visual image to it. I think it was a really instrumental point in our honor students’ lives.
“I think it’s definitely one of the most meaningful projects that COPS has ever done.”
Adam Nalchajian, the COPS freshman representative, brought the idea to Smittcamp. His church, New Covenant Community, has donated to the ministry in the past.
“When you go out to downtown and really look for people that are in need, you get to experience the other face of Fresno,” Nalchajian said. “There’s rampant poverty and everything, so it’s kind of nice to just be able to go out and do something for the community that really does kind of make a difference.”
Nalchajian believes that it is important to help people in need in person, so that they don’t feel like they are forgotten or neglected.
“You’re going out giving to people who don’t have food, telling them that they’re cared for, which is something they really don’t get a lot,” he said.
He added that the students were not afraid to walk up to the people in downtown, an area that most would avoid due to the poverty and criminal activity.
“A lot of them spent time talking to the people out on the streets, getting to know their names [and] what their stories were.” Nalchajian said. “It was a really cool experience.”
The most memorable moment for Nalchajian was when the group approached a homeless encampment near E and Monterey streets.
“We were just walking around and this couple walks up and says, ‘Hey, we have a little bit of food, but I would really like to provide some extra food to the people next to us. They’re doing badly and haven’t gotten food in a while,’” he said.
He continued, “They didn’t have much themselves but they had more than the people next to them, so it’s really kind of cool to see that even though they had so little, they are still watching out for those around them who need it even more. They look out for those who need it.”
Scott Bellefeuille founded Our Dog Ministry several years ago, after around four years of struggling with homelessness.
“My being homeless was a direct result of alcohol addiction,” he said. “I thought I was actually going to die being homeless and an alcoholic.”
He said that the idea to start the ministry was a command by God.
“At first I was like, ‘Me? Are you sure?’ I don’t have much money, but He let me know that whatever I had [taken] out would be enough,” Bellefeuille said.
For three years, Bellefeuille has visited downtown bringing food, clothing, water and whatever else families and churches could donate to him.
Over the holidays, the ministry made around 385 ham dinners for the homeless to celebrate Christmas. The ministry handed out Christmas stockings, stuffed with treats such as candy canes as well as clothing accessories including cold weather gloves and hats.
Ward believes that the event was successful. Some of the hungry in Fresno were fed for a day, and the students learned an invaluable life lesson.
“I think that these students are going to be leaders in their community, if they stay in Fresno or go back home,” Ward said. “These students, along with their peers at Fresno State, are going to be the shapers of the cultural spectrum of the upcoming years, and to have that empathy and the knowledge that there are people who aren’t as fortunate as we are, is going to be instrumental in bringing about change for that.”