The Snapple Dum-Dum Gang
Updated: Apr 12
Let’s start with some back story.
My husband, Chris, is a pastor. We’ve worked in ministry together for as long as I can remember. We started our own church back in 2001, right after 9/11. Our congregation has met in many different places over the years. Rents in northern California are outrageously high, making it difficult for anyone to rent, let alone a non-profit. We started out meeting in a high school cafeteria. Then we moved to a Salvation Army facility. After leaving there, we happily met at a Seventh Day Adventist school for about ten years. Yet, as a church, we desired a place we could call our own—a place we could call home.
Fast forward to the facility we now own. It’s an older, cinder block church that was built in 1960 with four additional smaller outbuildings on the property. It’s everything we asked and prayed for. We wanted to be visible, in the center of the community, so we could reach out and make a difference—Check. We didn’t want it to be too big, or too small—Check. It’s just the right size for our small, yet growing church body. We needed room for Sunday school, church offices, meeting hall, and a space outdoors for summer time barbecues and get-togethers—Check, check, and check. We covered the back space behind the church with shades, and laid down beautiful artificial turf. As it was an older property, it was in desperate need of all kinds of work. Lot’s of rebuilding and cleanup. But, we did it. We made it beautiful on the inside and out. It took about two years. It was a wee bit of an eyesore before we came in, so even the town leaders were happy with the clean up and beautification. But nobody was happier than our church family. Blessed is the word.
Yet, our new found freedom in having our own building came with its own set of issues.
The first one was the homeless community. The property, having sat empty for quite some time, had become a place for the homeless to sleep and store their belongings. We would show up to someone sleeping alongside one of the buildings, or next to the construction dumpster, which became a hazard when an unseen sleeping woman was almost dumped on. We even found people sleeping underneath the portable office units with their belongings being stored there as well. Slowly, we were forced to move these folks off of the property, finding other resources to help them if we could. We’ve made good relationships with some of them, and as a church, we work to aid the homeless community however we can.
Another issue has been our parking lot. We have 45 spaces, and we need every single one of them on a Sunday morning. We do have signs that say “Private Parking, Tenants Only”, but the town residents ignore them, and park in our parking lot so they can eat at one of the restaurants across the street. I get it. On a weekday, our parking lot is virtually empty. I say, more power to you. Go ahead and park there. Just don’t do it on a Sunday morning. Problem is, people like to go out to breakfast on Sunday Mornings. One Sunday, I had to ask someone if they wouldn’t mind moving their car (I’m always nice, never a meanie). I told them we were a church and on Sunday mornings we needed every single one of our parking spaces. Also, there was plenty of street parking available. That person got mad at me anyway.
We’ve also had a problem with graffiti on outside walls. Thankfully, we have a great surveillance camera system all around the property, so we were able to catch the very young culprits, and with the help of our town police, had the kids come back to clean up their malicious deeds. Turned out to be a win, win for everyone involved. We, as a church, showed love and forgiveness by not pressing charges, and the kids learned a valuable lesson. Don’t ever do graffiti when the surveillance camera can clearly see your face.
All of this leads me to the actual problem at hand, and to the title of this article. The Snapple Dum-Dum gang. Actually, I’m talking about biker gangs. Not the Harley Davidson, Hell’s Angels kind. We love it when they come to church. I’m talking about kids on bicycles. Lots of them. Kids that range from around eleven to maybe eighteen years old. In the beginning, it was small groups. A couple kids on bikes. A couple kids on skateboards. I mean, come on…our property is a biker and skater’s dream. Wooden decks, and lots of things to jump off of. And, best of all, an empty parking lot most of the time. I get it. It all screams to be ridden on. And we didn’t want to just kick them off the property. Maybe we could use it as an opportunity to reach some of these kids. Do some good, right? At first my husband and I would refer to them as The Buttercream Gang, named after a movie my kids loved to watch when they were little. The movie was about this group of kids on bikes that do good deeds around their small, country town. Sadly, good deeds have not been done by the bikers that visit our church property. I soon, therefore, started referring to them as The Hooligans. And then, one of our elders started calling them The Snapple Dum Dum Gang. I have no idea where that came from, but it stuck. The small groups have grown. They now come onto the property in tens and fifteens. I think I counted eighteen of them one day. We’ve made attempts to meet, extend a hand, and be nice to them. Chris even brought them soda and water to drink one day. They thanked us by leaving their trash behind when they left.
But it gets worse. As I said before, we have a good surveillance camera system. We see just about everything. These kids, no matter how kind we are to them, and no matter how many times we’ve asked them to respect our property, still insist on vandalizing and disrespecting. They jump off the decks with their bikes and ride through planters. They do burnouts on the sidewalks and on the artificial turf, leaving black tire marks that are almost impossible to remove. They climb on the roof. Yes, I said the roof. Don’t get me started. They move benches around, and leave trash and traffic cones in the middle of the parking lot. We watched a recording of a group of kids messing around behind the church on the artificial turf. One of them destroyed the turf by burning it with something that couldn’t be clearly seen on the camera. But the evidence remains—a melted, circular hole about the size of an over sized golf ball. We’ve had to call the police at times, but nothing seems to change the behavior of the bad ones. Snapple Dum-Dum Gang for realsies.
Here’s the saddest part. Not all of these kids are destructive. Not all of them are idiots that climb up on the roof and run around up there. I believe most of them are really great kids—kids who are probably bored, and just want a space to ride their bikes. But, there's always that one kid that ruins it for everyone else. Remember when you were in elementary school, and there was that one kid that would keep messing around? That kid would do something bad, and the teacher would ask who did it. Nobody would say anything, and the bad kid wouldn’t admit to it, so the entire class would have to miss recess…all because of that one kid. That’s kind of what this is like. We will now have to take drastic measures, whatever that would look like, and it will affect all these kids when they come to ride their bikes on our property. It truly does make me sad, because I want our wonderful church property to be a place where even the Snapple Dum-Dum Gang would feel welcome. A place where a kid, that might be hurting, or lonely, could come and ride his bike around the parking lot, drink a soda, and take a load off in the shade. Maybe we’ll find a way around the “drastic measures”, and a way to touch the hearts of these kids.
Speaking of surveillance cameras, maybe my next blog should be about all the crazy and insane stuff we’ve been able to watch people do on our surveillance cameras. On second thought, maybe not.