Throughout his life in Lodi, Dan Randall engaged heavily in alcohol and drugs. Perhaps the darkest part of his life was when he was convicted of kidnapping in the 1990s.
While sitting in a cell at Folsom State Prison in 1999, Randall was "rescued," as he put it. He listened to a Christian cellmate and has been serving the Lord ever since.
Since December, Randall has run UPtown Thrift, a shop on Sacramento Street that helps the homeless in Lodi. Through donated items, he and his staff contribute clothing to homeless people, provide lunch six days a week and even offer free weekly haircuts and shaves.
"It's about bringing people together. It's about bringing the church together. It's about bringing the community together," Randall said.
UPtown Thrift contains inexpensive clothing, dishes, vinyl records, VHS tapes, board games and other items in the building that once housed the Henderson Brothers Hardware store at 21 S. Sacramento St.
You can purchase belts and ties for 50 cents each or three for $1. Scarves and gloves go for $1. Last week, the store had Boston Red Sox and Texas Longhorns baseball caps available for $1.
Proceeds help the homeless, though Randall hesitates to use the word "homeless."
"We call them 'the community,'" he said. "They're people just like we are, and that's how God sees them."
Kim Pomeroy, eating lunch on Monday at UPtown Thrift, said she doesn't understand why Randall doesn't like the word "homeless."
"We are who we are," Pomeroy said.
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, UPtown Thrift provides a free lunch for those who need it.
"At lunch, we shake their hand and call them by their name," said Cesar Cerda, who with David McMinn oversees UPtown Thrift and two other establishments serving low-income residents in Stockton and Thornton. The umbrella organization is called Unity Project.
It's a real boost to their self-esteem when you call homeless people by their names, Cerda said.
"They don't care what your past was, they don't care what your future's going to," said William Hampton, a homeless man in Lodi who eats lunch regularly at UPtown Thrift. "They just care about now."
The lunch food is donated by two primary sources — DeVinci's Delicatessen and Catering donates a large amount of pasta, and a 78-year-old woman known only as Shirley cooks all kinds of food at her Lodi home. UPtown Thrift workers and volunteers pick up the food at her house on a regular basis.
Shirley prepared 998 meals between Jan. 4 and Feb. 14, said Nesha Newton, who organizes the lunch program.
"That lady cooks," Newton said. "She wakes up in the middle of the night when God tells her to cook."
Shirley cooks such dishes as chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, rice, ribs, tuna casseroles, Mexican food, steaks, pork chops and desserts, Newton said.
Homeless people are also eligible to receive clothes every two weeks. Newton gives them a pair of pants, two shirts, socks, shoes and a sweater.
"On a good day, I clothe 20 to 40 people, and I feed 50 to 100 people," Newton said.
Randall has worked at UPtown Thrift for eight months, but Cerda and McMinn put him in charge in early December.
Besides giving some of the necessities of life to people down on their luck, Randall hires some of them to work in the thrift shop, thereby giving them some much-needed job skills.
"I think the workers are the main ministry," McMinn said. "Real lives have been changed."
McMinn said that none of the managers are paid to operate UPtown Thrift. Randall has a separate T-shirt business downstairs from the thrift shop as his money-making operation.
Randall grew up in a Catholic family that attended St. Anne's Catholic Church in Lodi. He was released from prison on May 2, 2000 and says he's been clean and sober for 11 years.
After he was released from prison, Randall attended several churches, but didn't find one where he felt at home. That is, until he discovered Zion Christian Fellowship, now called Gravity Church, on South Central Avenue. He was youth pastor at Zion for four years.
Although he operates a for-profit T-shirt shop and runs the thrift shop, Randall spends his Sundays preaching in the back of the thrift shop building, where a small sanctuary can be found. The entrance is from the alley between Oak and Pine streets. There is no sign to the church, except for a wooden cross above the doorway.
About 20 adults attended last Sunday's service. Several of them brought their children, big and small.
Randall, wearing blue jeans, a black T-shirt and sporting several tattoos on his forearms and neck, talked about the people he sees near the railroad tracks, some of whom have committed suicide. They, along with people living in Downtown hotel rooms, need to be exposed to God, he said.
"This is our first time (at Randall's service)," Lodi resident Linda George said after the Feb. 13 service. "We donated some things to the thrift shop and heard they had a church. We loved it."
During the service, two women collapsed with seizures. The service was stopped for a few minutes as Lodi firefighters and ambulance workers took one of the women to the hospital. Randall and several people attending the service formed a circle around the woman as Randall led a prayer asking God for her recovery.
"It's people who love God being with people who need God," Randall said. "He rescued me 11 years ago from a life of craziness."
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.