FARMINGTON — John and Terri McCaleb have distributed food to low-income people each week for seven years.

Frank Hayes has helped Tres Rios Habitat for Humanity back into action after it was dormant for years.

Teresa Ashcroft aids people with mental illness and substance abuse problems.

Minerva Casanas-Simon leads a group of counselors to prevent violent behavior and substance abuse among students.

The four locals were awarded for their hard work at a ceremony during a San Juan Safe Communities Initiative conference last week. They were named Community Change Agent of the Year after nominations from several people. Hayes received honorable mention.

"We asked people to nominate someone who is a worker in the trenches, who really does make a difference in our community by the way they live their lives or by how much of themselves they pour into their work," said Dan Darnell, Safe Communities executive director.

Helping the hungry

Terri McCaleb volunteers three days each week for The Oasis church's food distribution program, the Lord's Pantry. John McCaleb volunteers at least once each week.

The husband and wife team distributes food and clothing Thursday nights to as many as 150 families.

The McCalebs process four large truck loads of food every week. They get the food from Economic Council Helping Others Food Bank and from donations.

"Although they have others from the church who help from time to time, it is John and Terri who locate the food and household good sources, go pick them up or arrange for delivery, and then handle the products for storage and distribution," The Oasis senior pastor Randy Joslin said. "This is a very time consuming process."

John McCaleb said he and his wife have seen the number of families getting food from the church approximately doubles each year. He hopes that the people being assisted will end up helping others.

He enjoys the atmosphere when he distributes food: families hug one another and gain hope.

"The people are hungry for the Lord as well as for the food," he said.

Mental health help

Ashcroft is one of half a dozen people who care for people with severe mental illness and drug addictions who are on Medicaid.

Ashcroft, a community support worker for Presbyterian Medical Services, often makes house calls to visit patients. She counsels patients and their families and sometimes helps them buy groceries.

Mentally ill patients sometimes take illegal drugs such as methamphetamine, she said. Some can barely function.

"It's our hope to keep our folks out of the hospital and out of jail," Ashcroft said.

A man with severe schizophrenia used to wander around town or spent time in jail for minor violations, Ashcroft said. He was terrified of people.

She helped the man and now he lives alone, can communicate better and isn't afraid of people anymore.

"I believe that everybody can have a better life," she said. "I believe that everybody can recover to a certain degree no matter how sick they are."

Student aid

Casanas-Simon supervises a group of Farmington school counselors who provide mental health services for students. The school received a special grant from the federal government for its mental health program.

The goal is to intervene early to prevent substance abuse and violence, Casanas-Simon said. Counselors also teach students about healthy relationships.

Casanas-Simon also volunteers with Safe Communities to research needs of residents.

"When I come into a place, I want to be part of that community," said Casanas-Simon, who is from Puerto Rico. "For me, being part of that is giving up my time and my skills back to the community."

She visits homes of residents and interviews people for the nonprofit, sometimes in Spanish.

"She volunteers her own time as often as the time she is on the clock," Darnell said.

Housing support

Hayes is attracted to Habitat for Humanity because he likes that the nonprofit "help folks help themselves."

The organization is building its seventh home for low-income families since 2007 under Hayes' leadership. Hayes credited donors, volunteers and board members for the recent success.

Prospective homeowners must contribute at least 200 hours to help build their home, must be economically disadvantaged and their current home must be inadequate.

Volunteers help build the homes and the organization helps the buyer secure a loan to repay the organization for the discounted home's cost.

Hayes is glad to help with what he feels is an important step in a person's life: buying a home.

"A home is a place where hopefully you can create a stable family situation," Hayes said. "It's a place you begin to take pride in."

Steve Lynn:

slynn@daily-times.com