In an old concrete warehouse on Stockton Street, Kip Gillam quickly grabs a package of Wasa Thin and Crispy Flat Bread and stacks it in a box with peaches, corn and chips with seasoned salt, before sliding the box down the line.
Dressed in sweatshirts, about a dozen volunteers bring life into the gray walls, chatting while sorting the donations in the chilly, fluorescent-light filled warehouse.
With each assembled box, the volunteers provide sustenance to Lodi’s homeless and low-income residents on Saturday mornings twice a month.
And when they come to pick up the food boxes, Kathy and Jim McClelland focus on giving them love.
“I want everyone to feel as valuable as they are,” she said.
During the last decade, the couple’s focus has always been on making a connection with everyone who walks in the door.
Building Blocks, an independent, faith-based nonprofit offers a church service that Jim McClelland, who is an ordained minister, leads when people pick up the food boxes on Saturday. They also host motivational speakers and offer advice to help people get back on their feet.
“We (serve) the heart, soul and body,” Kathy McClelland said. “In 10 years, we’ve kept that perspective of gratitude, self-dignity and gratefulness.”
They never turn anyone away in need, but they ask every person to evaluate how often they need help.
The McClellands are the executive directors of Building Blocks.
Some come twice a month, some stop in every couple of months when they can’t make ends meet and some only come during their jobs’ off seasons.
“These people become personable to us. We might be their ear if so-and-so died or if someone broke in and took their paycheck,” Kathy McClelland said.
The nonprofit has 1,600 registered families in the Lodi area, who at one time asked for help.
In 2011 alone, the nonprofit shared 3,349 boxes of food, held two summer camps for 106 youths, provided Thanksgiving and Christmas food boxes and shared 231 Christmas gifts with needy children.
They also helped 31 families with walkers, wheelchairs, diapers and medical portable toilets, two families who lost their homes due to fire, and built a library with 2,000 books for Pine Manor Guest Home, a care home.
The McClellands’ organization helps families weekly with donated clothes, furniture, books and household items, which they can pick up in a section of the warehouse that looks like a thrift store, where they can browse.
In 2011, they provided all of these services on a $20,000-a-year salary.
Now, the couple is looking for a new location that is smaller than their current warehouse. They are looking for a 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot building, with a low rent that will fit in their cash-strapped budget.
They are always looking for donations of food and clothing. Every week the contents of the food boxes change depending on where they get donations this week, but they always manage to distribute about three to five pounds of food to anywhere from 50 or 100 people.
Grocery stores, the Stockton San Joaquin Food Bank, local farmers, churches and schools all donate to the nonprofit.
“We never know what we’ll have, but what God gives us, we share,” she said.
Boxes can include asparagus, hot chili peppers, whole grain bread, chocolate chip cookies, lunch meat and even toothpaste.
Kathy McClelland said people often don’t think about the simple things: a package of Depends for an elderly person, or canned water for the people who work in the fields, so it doesn’t stagnate in the heat.
When the couple can help a family, that is a chance it will help reduce a lot of the problems in society, whether it is gang involvement, prostitution or drug and alcohol abuse, Kathy McClelland said.
“You don’t know how you are impacting people’s hearts,” she said. “We want to impact them for the positive, and then the bad goes down.”
When Maria Henderson was in trouble, she said Building Blocks helped her off the streets and into the Salvation Army shelter.
“Building Blocks showed me my Salvation,” Henderson wrote in a letter. “This is where at my crossroads I met up with God, who was always with me.”
The nonprofit started after the two talked with the former founder of the group and realized their deep desire to help others. Kathy McClelland grew up doing ministry work, while her husband, Jim, grew up as a recipient of religious nonprofits.
“It came second nature to me,” McClelland said “My husband reaped love from places like this as a kid.”
One of the benefits of having an independent nonprofit is that Building Blocks can focus directly on the community.
“We’re the little fish in the sea. Anything given to us monetarily, it stays right here with the families,” she said.
Gillam has been volunteering with the nonprofit for six to seven years.
“I came down for a box of food, and they can’t get rid of me. I’m glad they are here; otherwise, we’d have families who would go hungry,” he said.
Lodi resident Jane Sheldon wrote a letter thanking Building Blocks and its volunteers for all the help they gave her family when she lost her job.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, and to this day, all we can say is how blessed you have made us and so many others,” she wrote.
As the nonprofit helps those in need, Kathy McClelland hopes that everyone realizes that no matter the situation, they are loved.
“These people are trying to survive, and they are getting bitter inside. All I want is to try and love on them,” she said.