Mid-winter break is usually a time for relaxing. But for 10 students in Kent United Methodist Church’s youth group, the February vacation meant anything but relaxing, as they spent the week serving hundreds of meals a day, teaching preschoolers and connecting with people from different cultures.
The children and three adults flew down to San Francisco for a week of ministry Feb. 3 through 9. They divided their time between the daily free meals program at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, and the preschool program at Gum Moon Women’s Residence and Asian Women’s Resource Center.
“It was a very different experience. I’ve never really been away from home that long,” said 15-year-old Emily Hollingsworth, who went on the trip along with her 14-year-old brother, Jacob.
“It was sort of a wake-up call,” Jacob said, of the time spent serving meals to the homeless.
This was the first time the church’s youth had visited San Francisco, although several adult members had previously volunteered with Gum Moon’s Asian Women’s Resource Center, according to youth ministry director Ali Box.
Located in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Gum Moon – the name means “Golden Door” in Cantonese – offers support and housing services for Asian women in transition.
While working there, the volunteers led puppet shows, singing and activities for 15 to 20 preschoolers each day. And for Chinese New Year, which fell in the middle of their trip, the group organized a carnival for the children and their families.
“They had hot dogs and chips, and we had about eight carnival stations,” Box said.
Over at Glide Memorial, the work featured fewer cute kids, and a lot more physical labor, as the group helped to serve about 700 people per mealtime.
Glide Memorial serves three free meals a day, 365 days a year, to homeless and poor individuals in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. According to the church’s Web site, it provides about 750,000 meals annually, with the help of a largely volunteer staff.
“Normally, volunteers only do one meal, maybe two at most (per day)” said youth group member Colin Cushman, 18. “We were the only group in recent history that’s done all three.”
On the second day of their trip, the enthusiastic youth group members – including Cushman and the Hollingsworths – went from breakfast to supper without a break, serving, chatting with attendees and cleaning up between meals. All told, they likely helped to serve more than 2,000 meals in that one day.
“We were absolutely exhausted at the end,” Cushman said. “In retrospect, that was one of my favorite moments, because we really had a sense of accomplishment afterwards.” He added that the Glide program staff restricted them to one or two meals a day for the rest of the week.
One highlight of the trip for the Northwesterners was attending Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown.
“There was a dragon dance, with about five dragons,” recalled Emily Hollingsworth.
All in all, Box said, the trip went very well, although she’ll probably make some changes for future missions trips.
“I don’t know if it’ll be Mid-Winter Break again,” she said. “It was hard (for the students) to catch up on homework.”
Kent United Methodist Church is located at 11010 S.E. 248th St., Kent. For more information about the church or its ministries, call the office at 253-852-3900.
Contact staff writer Christine Shultz at 253-872-6600, ext. 5056, or firstname.lastname@example.org.