In 2011, Eric Camarillo had a vision to see positive changes take place in his community. Though a newly baptized Christian, Camarillo desired to see more active and consistent service taking place to meet the obvious needs he was witnessing every day. The result was his founding of Service and Love Together (SALT).
Now with an average of over 125 consistent volunteers and 18 volunteer leaders monthly, the young members of SALT work to exemplify the character of Christ through relational evangelism, equipping people for service and fostering spiritual growth. Some of their most notable projects include My Brother’s Keeper, a mobile outreach centre for the homeless of downtown Orlando, Fla., hospital outreach and the SALT Kids’ Tutoring Program.
Over the past six years, SALT has succeeded in distributing over 25,000 kilograms of food to the homeless, providing over 3,000 articles of clothing since the launch of their clothing trailer and praying with over 6,500 patients in hospital. This year, they will celebrate their seventh anniversary. There is “no turning back” for this young, vibrant ministry as they strive to make a real difference in the lives of those they serve in various meaningful ways.
Can you tell us a bit about SALT and how it first came together?
I became a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian in May 2010, when I was baptized. Here in Orlando, Fla., there are probably about seven churches within a three-mile radius of the church I was baptized in.
Upon entering the church, I started to notice some issues within the church as a whole. What baffled me the most, however, was that the churches were not working together. That’s when I started thinking that if the churches could combine their resources, they could do a great work.
At the time, there was a lack of unity and I didn’t see anything being done to meet specific needs within the community. If there was any outreach done at all, it was once a year or every couple of months. The lack of consistency gave me the impression that relationships weren’t being built in the community.
So I started SALT as a platform for different churches to come and work together to do practical, consistent outreach in the community. A lot of young adults became attracted to this idea and united with us in our vision to minister in this way.
This was so needed in the church, because young adults are leaving the church in large numbers. Young adults just want to see something real happening in the community. They don’t want to be around anything that they might consider hypocrisy or people not actively doing anything. This is the manpower of our organization.
I’m sure there were a lot of sacrifices that had to be made in order for your organization to grow to where it is now, some six years later. I believe one of these sacrifices was the fact that you felt impressed to leave your job at the time. What was that like for you?
I left jobs twice. The first time was before SALT started and my leaving this job was what sparked the idea behind SALT and what motivated me to do something. About a year into SALT, we were doing well. We started with about ten projects, most of which were outreach. We had worship events every three months or so and our numbers were growing.
At our one-year anniversary in September 2012, we had about 850 young adults come out for an Adventist youth service with churches from all over Florida. I was 23 at the time and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was starting a non-profit and was kind of learning as I went along. I had no idea how to structure the organization.
Because I was both working as a dental assistant and in school, I didn’t have time to sit down and figure things out. So I quit my job, although I had no idea at the time where my next source of income would be coming from. All I knew was that I needed to focus my time on SALT or it might crash and burn. For six months, I had no source of income, but somehow God took care of all of my bills, which would have totaled about $2,000 every month.
One time, for instance, I remember running out of food. My cabinets and fridge were empty — I had exhausted everything. So, as I sat in my house, just thinking and praying, a friend invites me to go bowling with him. I told him I didn’t have any money, but he said he would pay for me.
When I got home later that day, I noticed that both my cabinet and my pantry were full and there was also a brand-new rice cooker on the counter with rice in it. Then my attention was directed to a quote on my fridge, which read: “If God can take care of the sparrows, then He can take care of you.” It was at that point that I broke down. God had provided for me yet again. I learned a lot from that experience.
In that story you shared, you saw a beautiful example of God miraculously intervening in your life at that time. Since becoming more involved in SALT’s outreach projects, can you share more examples of how you have seen God working in this capacity?
We have three outreach projects now — our ministry to the homeless, the kids tutoring program and we also minister to patients in the hospital.
On Sabbath mornings, we provide food to the homeless and use this as a platform to create relationships with them. After further assessing the needs of the homeless men and women in our communities, we realized that there were certain things that the city and the other non-profits weren’t offering in the area, so we went ahead and fundraised for a clothing trailer.
Our clothing trailer, which cost about $5,000, provides remedial aid and clothing, though specifically formal wear, because the homeless downtown don’t have access to that. And then we also just purchased a shower trailer for the homeless at a cost of about $40,000, which we’re going to use as a way to help these individuals get back to work. It provides a place where they can shower, shave, get changed and then go ahead and do what they need to get done … This was all raised through fundraising and the help of our kind donors.
During the time we spent engaging with the community, we met a homeless woman with mental health challenges. Unfortunately, we’ve found that a lot of the time, people will ignore the homeless with mental challenges. But we befriended this one woman.
At first, she was a little quiet and shy, but after a couple of weeks with her, we found out that she had a boyfriend that had led her out to Orlando (she was from Jacksonville) and she didn’t know how to get home to her family. She must have been about 29 or 30, but she had the mindset of a young child. But we connected with her dad over social media and once he knew we had her, he drove over to pick her up. He was so happy, and so were we, because we had been able to reconnect her with her family.
Another homeless person we knew had about $15,000 worth of business equipment because he used to print T-shirts. So we helped him get his business up and running again. It had been a very hard and difficult year for him, but once he was able to get back on his feet, he felt accomplished.
In 2015, we held an evangelistic series in Apopka after being in the Orlando community for about six years and were able to baptize six people from that. Two more people were baptized a bit later. One was a past drug dealer and another was a prostitute. After the baptism took place, we continued to work with them. It was definitely a blessing.
With our hospital outreach, we typically go room to room. Sometimes people lose hope in what appear to be quite hopeless situations and when this happens, they may find themselves at the bottom of the barrel. But we visit these rooms and we ask if we can sing a song or two for them. Most of the time they say yes. We also share Scripture and pray with them.
I’ll never forget this one time, when members of our team visited this room where a woman was in a coma. She had been this way for about two or three months. At the time of our visit, her family had been with her, so the room was packed.
Our group remained in the room singing songs and her family members were in tears. It was quite emotional. Upon the conclusion of their singing session, the woman woke up. And the whole room went crazy. It was such a witness to the family.
In addition to our hospital ministry, we have also visited funerals, too, as people who do not necessarily practise a faith will invite us to sing for them.
“It’s so easy to become desensitized. But we have to pray for God to ‘re-sensitize’ us to poverty and the needs in our community.”
Right now, we also have a tutoring program for the kids, as we recognize that their biggest need is education and we are encouraging them to go to college. We really want to focus on the children and doing what we can to help them succeed.
At times, we can get daunted by poverty and the various needs that confront us. How should we as believers work to overcome the apathy we may often feel and make an active effort to address this in our communities?
Well, I would first recommend praying. Living in the world we live in, we can become desensitized to the different elements of poverty around in our community.
I remember driving close to the border of Mexico and California once. As I drove in, I witnessed miles and miles of people living in cardboard boxes. I was so shocked to see that right next to the border of America. It’s so easy to become desensitized. But we have to pray for God to “re-sensitize” us to poverty and the needs in our community.
When we pray for God to reveal these to us, and after He has placed within us a passion or cause that He believes we can help with, then I would recommend finding an organization in your community that serves your population or serves in the manner in which you’re inspired to serve.
If there isn’t one, then start one. Non-profits are such a great way to rally people together for a cause. Starting an organization is always a good option to try and address the need that’s out there. I will be starting a YouTube series on how to start a non-profit organization at the beginning of 2019. As God’s people, we need to take charge and be leaders in our community.
What is your advice on how we can address the challenges that sometimes arise when we are looking to start something new?
One of the biggest challenges of wanting to start something is just not having people with you. A lot of the times you’re by yourself. It’s hard.
When I was first starting, I had the privilege of being able to be supported by two close friends whom I had shared my vision for SALT with. All throughout those early days, they were there to guide me through the whole process. They prayed with me constantly about everything, helped me with events and even helped me come up with the name. If it wasn’t for their support, it would have been very discouraging for me.
So, it’s important that you strive to find people who will be with you on this journey. And if there isn’t anyone with you, it’s going to be very difficult. I live in a populated area, but there could be youth in rural areas who just don’t have other youth in their church and they want to do something.
A lot of what I had to do in the beginning was go to different churches, as it wasn’t enough just to know the people at my church. I had to mingle with different people and create friendships with them. Sometimes I would visit a church and talk to someone to figure out who their youth leader was.
I was invited to be a youth chaperone on a retreat at a church outside of my own one time, which gave me the opportunity to connect with other people. This was a blessing. It was because of all of these different connections that SALT was able to grow so quickly. It’s just about selling your vision.
As part of your vision, I notice there is quite an emphasis on building relationships with the people you are serving. Can you explain the reason for this?
There are many organizations out there that give food to the homeless and then they leave. But that is not evangelism. Christ’s method of evangelism was to create relationships with people, meet their needs, win their confidence and then lead them to himself.
A lot of people leave after they are baptized, because no relationship has been formed. The people that stay in the church are usually the ones that others have successfully created relationships with. This sets the core for everything.
Some people can sacrifice money easily, but when you have to sacrifice your time, your energy or your comfort for someone, that is real. People value your time more than they want your money. We need to be intentional and establish relationships with those we are serving if we really intend to lead them to Christ.
We’re interested to know what SALT is going to be up to in the coming months. Can you talk about some of the other projects you are working on for the near future?
There is our tutoring program. We hired a head tutor and are paying a $500 stipend for about ten hours a week. We have four volunteer tutors and ten students. As the semesters pass, we’re planning to have more tutors and more students and keep it growing until it expands into other communities.
The shower trailer for our homeless outreach program will help us offer a more structured back-to-work program, which includes partnering with local organizations to provide resume-building skills, interviewing skills, laundry and transportation.
While these two programs are our main focus right now, we have also thought about conducting an evangelism school and a prison project, where we help people who have (criminal) records. We’re also looking for ways to make our organization sustainable, so we have begun a membership program where monthly donors contribute towards the ongoing projects and also receive discounts to local businesses. This helps to make our dreams a reality.
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