Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
They ride around town on loud motorcycles after dark, sporting names like Ironhide, Klutch, Rogue and Bishop stitched onto leather jackets, and surrounded by various patches and insignias.
The Hellfighters Ministry Soul Snatchers Unit spends every Saturday night cruising the streets of Albuquerque looking for stomachs to fill and hands to warm. They’re a Christian ministry motorcycle gang that has spent seven years feeding the city’s homeless and others in need.
The leather-clad, bandanna-wearing group, with its vans and motorcycles, meets at 8:30 p.m. in the parking lot of a McDonald’s at Lomas and Broadway NE every week. Volunteers gather around the bikes and line their cars up behind the vans as the group gets ready to head out. The operation, which the group calls Mercy After Dark, starts with a briefing to volunteers telling them what they should expect in the coming hours.
“The vans are packed with blankets, sweaters, beanies, whatever they need,” Dave “Ironhide” Clark tells a group of heavily bundled newcomers gathered in the dark parking lot on a chilly Saturday night.
The temperature continues to drop, getting close to 32 degrees, but that doesn’t stop him. The group hits the streets in rain, sleet, snow and ice.
“We give the post office a run for their money,” Clark said.
He tells the volunteers not to put their knees or hands on the ground when approaching someone on the street – to avoid being stuck by a stray needle. He encourages them to strike up a conversation with anyone who walks up to the vans and warns them, “If we say, ‘Load up,’ don’t ask questions.”
Clark lets everyone know they can leave at any time, but it’s a safe bet the bikers won’t go home until just before sunrise.
The Hellfighters usually roll out with four vans to canvass different parts of the city, taking soup, hot chocolate, prepared sack lunches, clothing, blankets and hygiene kits. Almost everything in the vans is donated and often comes from clothing or food drives.
And they don’t limit their charity to people experiencing homelessness.
Doug “Bishop” Anaya is the ministry’s president and runs the Central Avenue route, which he warns is the most dangerous, not because of the homeless community, but because of the people who surround them.
Anaya has helped people with drug abuse problems get into rehab centers, furnished apartments when his “homeless friends” get off the streets and even helped sex workers get away from their pimps.
Because of that, he’s stood face to face with drug dealers and human traffickers, and was even told there’s a “price” on his head. But it doesn’t faze him.
“It kind of energizes me. I know that we are doing the right thing. … It kind of lets me know that I am doing what I am supposed to,” Anaya said.
Last Saturday, on the second stop of the night, he pulled a team of about five volunteers, two bikers and one van driver out of a gas station parking lot when, he said, a group of guys he knows to be drug dealers parked behind the Hellfighters members and started watching them.
No one has ever been injured while serving Mercy After Dark, and the Hellfighters haven’t had many problems in their seven-year history, but Anaya said the dealers will sometimes “step to us.”
The group estimates it serves about 3,000 people every year, homeless or not.
Natasha Lora has met the group almost every Saturday since 2015.
She used to be homeless but now has an apartment, which Anaya and the group helped to furnish, near one of the routine stops.
“I was homeless way back, and I still need help; I’m still struggling,” she said.
Last weekend, she picked up a prepared meal, warm soup and hot chocolate. When volunteers saw she had brought her dog, Princess Jasmine, they dug through the back of the van and pulled out two zip-lock bags of dog food for Lora to take home.
“It feels good,” she said. “They have everything, everything that you need; they will help you. There’s a lot of homeless out here that need a lot of help.”
When the group rolls up to each spot, those on motorcycles rev their engines to let their friends know they’ve arrived.
Usually, people are already waiting for them.
The Hellfighters have been helping Santana Sena and his fiancée, Rebecca Kent, for close to a year. Last month, the couple moved into their own apartment, but they still come out for food, warmth and conversation.
“If it wasn’t for these guys, there are a lot of people who probably wouldn’t be here right now,” Sena said.
“After so long of being treated like a dog, you kind of start really feeling like one,” he said. “A little thing such as hot soup or hot cocoa, that goes a long way.”
Even with a new job and a place to live, Sena said, he still struggles.
“Rent this month is going to be hard to come by. It’s a little stressful. Some of our good friends, we’ve heard that they froze over and that they were found dead in the morning because it was so cold out there,” he said.
Anaya gave Sena a lead on a second job in hopes it will bring the couple a little more money.
When people come across the Hellfighters, they’re often strung out, hovering around rock bottom, using trash bags to keep warm, sometimes they’re even pregnant. Anaya and the rest of his crew try to be a bright spot for them.
“We have such a huge kind of responsibility to them because … there’s a lot of them that have really burned those bridges because of their addictions, because of their issues, they don’t have a family,” Lenora “Rogue” Salas Blackbird told the group of volunteers Saturday. “That’s why we call them our homeless friends, they’re not just homeless people; they’re homeless friends, they’re our friends.”
Tim and Heidi Evans took that sentiment to heart Saturday as they worked the Central route.
“I just met these people and already feel like (I) have a connection,” Heidi Evans said. “They’re human beings. They deserve to be treated with respect … and unfortunately, not everybody looks at them that way.”