After having lived and served in the Casa Grande area for over two decades, I am still learning about the soul of our once small rural district. We don’t yet have the size or populace of the northern or southern Valley communities, although we are growing at an amazing rate. When I came to this town all those years ago, we had to go up to one of those bigger communities to find the large stores or a popular sit-down restaurant or go to the mall, but today all those things are here in our once quiet hamlet of Casa Grande.
I simply cannot believe all the industry, housing tracts, large country homes and additions to the hospital, along with so many other great accompaniments to our community, including the increase of traffic or the line at Cracker Barrel or Olive Garden on Sunday after church. Yes, either for good or bad, our community has grown!
But there is another change that has and is taking place in our hamlet of quietness tucked between the two chaotic metropolises to the north and south of us. It’s a change that is not as visible as a new restaurant or an up and coming housing tract; as a matter of fact, if you’re not dialed in, you can miss it entirely.
What I’m referring to is the heart of our city. I was at a planning and zoning meeting last week at our City Hall in downtown Casa Grande. I was there as a petitioner representing the Lighthouse and MASH Unit, a ministry that has been serving this community for over 20 years, with millions of pounds of food, thanks to caring businesses like Walmart Distribution Center, United Dairymen of Arizona and others. We also serve in many other ways besides food. Because of serving those who have needs in our community, we see a lot that most do not. I was at the meeting to ask our city representatives to allow us to expand our services to more effectively reach and serve those people who find themselves out of work and unable to take care of some of the basic needs for themselves and their families. I have at many occasions found families, including children, sleeping the night in our parking lot in their car.
Of course as soon as you place people in categories, you automatically think of the homeless, and yes, there are people who are on the street, some by choice but for many it’s not a matter of option, it’s a lousy situation into which they have been dragged, and they desperately want out!
While I was at this meeting, there were several other requests from our community for the city’s permission to take on projects around the community; all three before us had to do with new homes being built in our area. At one point, the subject of burrowing owls was brought up. A great deal was made about the need to move them without causing distress to their well-being. The matter was discussed and the builders got their wish with the city’s blessing.
Our request to offer showers and other services to those who need help was denied, mostly due to businesses in the area of the Lighthouse. Folks, I do get it, along with troubled people come problems, and some of those problems overflow to the community. Even though I understand and empathize with our local business community, I don’t understand the cold-hearted attitude of so many. But I truly believe several of those on the planning commission were saddened by their decision to turn us down.
Please, people of our dear city, don’t feel that I am condemning the city or the planning commission, the mayor or even the business community. I truly don’t feel this is a situation that we should leave in the city’s lap and expect them to just deal with it and escape our own Christian duty!
OK, God, this whole thing is in your hands! I pray, by your grace, that you would bring people together and breathe soul, compassion and love into our community and give us the way, heart and means to make a difference!
Jerry Leastman is founder and chairman of Lighthouse Ministries and the MASH Unit.