Because his small office doubles as a store room for donated food that the Rev. Deacon Dave Ferrell collects for hungry people, it becomes increasingly cramped as Christmas nears.
Already, bags and boxes of canned food and even dog food are blocking the lowest shelf of Ferrell’s bookcase at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Nevada City.
“It becomes, ‘Where can you hide this stuff?’” Ferrell said with a chuckle.
But Ferrell, often called “Deacon Dave,” isn’t one to complain.
Not only does he feel compelled to deliver that food to hungry people across Nevada County, it also entices canines visiting the church to follow their noses into Ferrell’s office.
Ferrell’s size doesn’t make his office look any more spacious. At 6 feet, 4 inches tall and sporting a full white beard, his stature casts a large shadow.
But that shadow is dwarfed by the impact Ferrell has had on the community for almost half a century. Whether it was feeding the hungry or caring for the abused, Ferrell has dedicated his life to helping others.
“Dave is way up there in terms of his character and sense of care for others and willingness to spend time and effort on them,” said Father Christopher Seal, Trinity’s faith leader.
Ferrell moved to Nevada County from Oroville with his wife, Dett, in 1966.
While his wife worked in education, Deacon Dave spent his first 32 years in the Nevada City area working for the Nevada County Probation Department — seven years as its chief.
It was in that line of work that Ferrell came to know the struggles of others.
“Most people are only a month or two away from their whole world being turned upside down,” Ferrell said. “Often, it’s not their choice.”
When he retired in 1998, Ferrell felt a calling to the church, of which he had been a member since soon after his arrival in Nevada County.
In his religious capacity, Ferrell continued to work on domestic violence and sexual assault, writing manuals and serving on boards and committees to help others assist victims.
“He’s worked with people in trouble and in need for most of his life,” Seal said. “I think his work with the community and his work as a chief of probation, it is all part of who he is as a human being.”
For the last three years, Ferrell organized Trinity parishioners to donate food and funds to feed the hungry. Because of his efforts, Trinity was the first church to help feed guests of Hospitality House.
Without a shelter of its own, Hospitality House has coordinated area churches to feed homeless people and provide them a place to sleep for nine months a year since its inception in 2005.
Currently, 12 churches help Hospitality House provide services to 380 people in 2011, not including man-on-street outreach efforts. This year was the organization’s first to provide year-round service, and Trinity was there the whole time.
“He’s contributed so much,” said Joanna Robinson, one of Hospitality Houses’s founders.
“It’s such important work and his work has been really important to us,” Robinson said. “He’s been so steadfast.”
Ferrell has also helped feed the hungry at Trinity with the help of Grass Valley’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church Tuesdays and Thursdays to offset the nights the Food Bank of Nevada County does not.
“You never get the feeling that he is doing a chore,” Seal said. “He does everything so quietly. None of it is done for personal gain or esteem in the community or anybody’s eyes at all. He doesn’t ever look for payback. It’s always pay out for him.”
Some of the people Ferrell sees were students of Ferrell’s wife, he said. Others were people he worked with in probation. Some are both. When Nevada City was developing its camping ordinance to permit homeless people to sleep on public property, Deacon Dave was brought in to serve on the committee to outline the process.
“I think I have a different perspective than most people in the faith community,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell, 76, has no plans to cease his work anytime soon, he said.
Ferrell is also a father, a former Marine, a Civil War re-enactor, an artist, a photographer and the national chaplain for the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.
“I’ve always enjoyed history,” said Ferrell, who dresses in Civil War attire for Nevada City’s Constitution Day Parade. “It’s a chance to show people what it was like so they can get an understanding.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.
“Dave (Ferrell) is way up there in terms of his character and sense of care for others and willingness to spend time and effort on them,”
— Father Christopher Seal, Trinity Episcopal Church