Practical help

Caleb Gargano, right, Chuck Wilde, middle, and Doral Jackson, back, do yard work outside a home Sunday morning in Coloma. The church members of The River volunteer in the community when a month has five Sundays to give back to the community in a practical way instead of a traditional church service.

COLOMA — As people flocked to their respective churches Sunday morning, members of The River, a church in Watervliet, spread out into the community. 

“We just really wanted to show God’s love. Not just to be seen or anything like that,” The River’s pastor, Doral Jackson, said. “Jesus reached out in a practical way and helped people. I think that’s what the church ought to be.” 

When a month has five Sundays, The River skips church service and volunteers in the community. On Sunday, about 40 members of the church helped area seniors clean up outside and inside their homes from the winter. 

Jackson said while the church has done different things in the past to be involved in the community, like parades and other events, about two years ago they decided they really wanted to step up with a more practical application and meet the needs of the community that are felt daily. 

“One of the things I’ve asked my congregation in the past is this: if our church were to be gone tomorrow, would our community miss us?” he said. “We feel like the church is to be a worship center, a place for people to come and learn, but also the church has a responsibility to impact the community. To be a positive influence in the community. However we can reach out and show God’s love to people in a practical way, we want to do it.”

Since evenings and days during the week are busy for everyone, the fifth Sunday idea came about.

“That puts us at about three times a year doing this,” Jackson said. “It fit well because we come into the church, have a short time of prayer together, then the people are released to go volunteer. After we’re done we’ll all gather back at the church and have a meal and fellowship together.”

One of the group’s first big volunteer projects was cleaning out the “bear cave” in Hays Park. The stone structure was overgrown and, with the help of the city’s dump trucks, the crew spent a Sunday clearing the brush. 

“When our people got on it, they worked hard,” Jackson said. “It’s hard work, but it’s very rewarding.”

The church has also painted the bleachers at Watervliet High School’s football stadium and cleaned up Flaherty Park in Watervliet. 

Edna Frigo, who lives along Timber Drive in Coloma, was one of the seven seniors that The River helped on Sunday. 

“I think it’s wonderful to be getting this help. My floors were so dirty I couldn’t stand it,” Frigo said. “It’s hard for me to do that now, so when Becky (the church’s outreach coordinator) called to tell me the church was coming and they were going to wash my floors I said, ‘Oh my god.’ Somebody must of heard me screaming because I have been so excited all week. And they’re down there on their hands and knees. I think it’s wonderful.”

Frigo, who has lived in her home since 1987, said she relies on help a lot, as her daughter-in-law brings her meals and does her grocery shopping, and others help cut her grass and shovel her snow. 

She said a group came to help her out four or five years ago, but she wasn’t home at the time to really see the work they were putting into her home. This time, she said, she has enjoyed watching the church members work. 

“I’m very appreciative of North Berrien Senior Center for recommending me,” she said. “These people are great.”

The day also served as a renunion of sorts between Frigo and Linda Jackson, Pastor Jackson’s wife, who are old friends. 

“I used to go to breakfast at her house every single morning,” Frigo said. “We’d talk and talk for hours. Then the stairs over there became difficult.”

Linda Jackson said she’d been asking around about Frigo, but everyone said they hadn’t heard from her in a while. 

“I kept saying, ‘Lord, I’d sure like to run into her.’ And then Becky comes in and says you’re going to be mopping her floors. (God) does listen,” Linda Jackson said. 

Pastor Jackson said he’d like this event to inspire other to volunteer however they can. 

“Maybe they can’t do yard work or other stuff that we’re doing, but they can do something in their community that lets people see the love of God in a practical way because he does love everybody and cares about everybody,” he said. “I believe if all the churches did their part, a whole lot more would get done to help people.” 

Contact:, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman