By Becky St. Clair
In early May, San Bernardino County officials were looking for sites large enough to host COVID-19 testing events for the general public. Those tested had to be first responders, essential workers, over the age of 65, or exhibiting at least one symptom, which was a large enough number of people that drive-through testing sites required large, open, easily accessible spaces. One of the first locations that came to their minds was Azure Hills church.
“We have a great relationship with the city,” said Trevan Osborn, executive pastor at Azure Hills. Every year, the city holds its Christmas tree lighting in the church’s parking lot with nearly 1,000 people in attendance, and many community groups meet regularly in the facility. “We’ve really been intentional about offering our facility to the city when they need it, and as a result, we were at the top of their list when they started looking for testing sites,” he said.
So, on Thursday, May 7, a team of nurses, sanitation engineers, and volunteers organized by the city gathered in the parking lot at Azure Hills to begin their day of drive-through testing for COVID-19. Because it was appointment-only, and because the city’s team was a well-oiled machine, the event went smoothly. The team conducted about 250 tests.
“It was really inspiring to watch,” Osborn said. “To see the different levels of protocol and PPE (personal protective equipment) really struck me, because all these people were willing to put themselves at risk for the sake of helping others.”
Ten minutes down the road the following week, on Monday, May 11, Loma Linda Academy (LLA) hosted a similar event, seeing another 250 drive-through test appointments.
“We had already been contacted about using our space to triage patients if the pandemic got out of hand,” explained Mark Brettnacher, plant services director at LLA. “We have a covered parking area and two gymnasiums within easy walking distance from the parking lot. It’s the perfect location for something like this, and we were happy to be a good neighbor in the community.”
Back in early April, as COVID-19 cases in the United States were rising, LLA Elementary School’s 3-D printers were hard at work, creating face shields for emergency oral surgery clinics, hospitals, nurses, and respiratory therapists both locally and across the country. Caleb VinCross, former computer teacher, and his team continued to build essential supplies for first responders as the weeks went by, and by mid-April, they had built and delivered 130 shields to healthcare workers.
In a Facebook post shared by Loma Linda Academy on April 16, VinCross said, “As long as there are requests, we’ll keep printing.”
As of mid-June, 183 face shields in total were printed.
Being a good neighbor is important to Azure Hills, as well.
“As a gathering place for the city, our church has been able to share the love of God with our community,” Osborn said. “At these events, we’re not evangelizing directly—and we shouldn’t be—but the personal conversations that take place and the goodwill the events provide has a huge ministry impact.”
Azure Hills members have been working on changing their local image since 2012, deciding as a church that they wanted to make a greater impact in the community. One of the pastors dedicated most of his time to pastoring the community in ways such as attending city council meetings and volunteering on city committees. The idea caught fire.
“Before long, every member of the pastoral staff was trying in their own way to be intentional about engaging, supporting, and getting involved in the community,” Osborn said.
A local nonprofit organization holds community classes in the church facilities twice a week, ranging from art to STEM, from music to exercise, for youth and adults. The Foundation of Grand Terrace, Toastmasters, and Girl Scouts all meet regularly at the Azure Hills cottage, a renovated building with three meeting spaces available free of charge to the community.
Because the property used to be a country club, there are large tennis courts that have been renovated into full basketball courts, on which several community groups regularly play pickleball and roller hockey. Pre-COVID-19, the church hosted an open court night every Saturday evening, when anyone could play.
In 2017, between church and community events, there were only seven days of the entire year when someone wasn’t utilizing the church’s space.
“Everyone around here knows that if you need something, reach out to our church; they’ll help,” said Osborn. “We’re proud of this and thrilled to have this kind of relationship with our community and the space with which to be useful. We hope other churches can follow this lead and do more in their own communities.”