Mission Longview is in full swing as about 120 preteens volunteer throughout the community this week.
The young helpers will be delivering food, painting houses and sewing masks.
“Each year, fifth- through eighth-graders gather together with open hearts and open hands,” Alpine Church of Christ’s Kids and Pre-Teen Minister Melissa Kitchens said. “This is our 10th annual, so some of these kids have done it for years.”
Campbell Liebengood, 11, who volunteered for the past two years, stood with his friends in the pantry at Longview Community Ministries among supplemental grocery boxes to donate.
“We were helping people move boxes and load boxes into cars,” he said. “It was fun.”
Kitchens said the group has been volunteering at Longview Community Ministries for about five years.
“Y’all are awesome,” Director of Food Services Doug Beck said to a group of youths.
Kitchens got Mission Longview off the ground 10 years ago.
“When I transitioned from youth ministry to children’s ministry at our church, I realized there were less opportunities being given to the younger kids to serve,” Kitchens said. “And what better place to start serving right here in our own backyard, as they prepare to serve other cities and other countries as they get older?”
Their mission theme Bible verse this year is Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Kitchens said she had the Scripture in mind during Mission Longview last year.
“I think the Holy Spirit just nudged this verse into my mind, not knowing then how much change we would have to endure this year,” Kitchens said, noting how COVID-19 and the quarantine has altered lives. “That’s why I get chills is, because this was on my heart long before all of the virus, but how perfect it is for this situation, for the world we’re living in today.”
Each volunteer wears a bright blue and green “Mission Longview” shirt with the words “Same Yesterday, Same Today, Same Tomorrow” on the back, as a reminder of their mission verse.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, Kitchens said organizers had to “get creative this year.”
“Several of the places we’ve partnered with in the past are not allowing groups to come and serve,” she said, “so that’s why this year, we are learning how to make masks.”
Kitchens said the group is taking temperatures of the children and adults every day and has distributed bright green face bandannas. All volunteers must wear some type of face covering and practice social distancing during large group gatherings.
Volunteers came from Alpine Church of Christ, One Hope Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Bible Church in Longview and Mobberly Baptist Church, all in Longview; 1 Family Fellowship in Hallsville; Chandler Street Church of Christ in Kilgore; and Christian Home Educators Community of Longview home-school group.
Last year, 24 churches were represented for the week, but registration was limited this year.
Longview Mayor Andy Mack usually visits in person to speak with the volunteers but sent a video this year, Kitchens said.
“Local ministers will be speaking to the kids throughout the week, encouraging them to trust God as our constant, even when culture and life is changing so much,” Kitchens said. “Remind the kids of God’s faithfulness.”
Other places Mission Longview will serve this week include Hannah House Maternity Home, Expectant Heart Pregnancy Resource Center, Longview Arboretum and Nature Center, Longview Dream Center, Alpine Christian Academy, Ned E. Williams Elementary School, Ware East Texas Montessori Academy, South Ward Elementary School, Brookdale Longview and Beds of Hope.
The group also will be sewing masks for Texas Child Protective Services workers.
Lillian Mauriello, 13, and her sister Grace Mauriello, 11, said they were excited for their volunteer opportunities throughout the week.
“I’m excited to make cookies and stuff, because I love making cookies for people,” Grace said.
The cookies will be donated to staff at Brookdale.
“We have two older groups actually painting a house,” Kitchens said.
This is the first year Lillian and Grace have volunteered for Mission Longview. They spent Tuesday morning at Longview Community Ministries, tearing plastic off flats for canned goods and helping with boxes.
“This is better than sitting at home alone,” Lillian said. Both girls were glad to be around friends, adding that serving together makes them better friends.
Kitchens said it is rewarding to watch the children grow throughout the week, excited to do good in their community. Many of the young volunteers have been social distancing or unable to see friends for several months.
“It’s just rewarding to be with friends, no matter what they’re doing — if it’s cleaning, sorting, stacking boxes or ripping up the fence and pulling weeds today,” Kitchens said. “And they’re doing it with such joy. They love being together, and they haven’t all gotten to be together this summer.”
The group will be starting Vacation Bible School on Aug. 8 at Alpine Church of Christ.
“We’re doing that a little different, too,” Kitchens said. “Instead of a four-night event, it’s going to be a one-evening event, and then we’ll follow up during church the next four weeks.”
They will have stations for the children to visit and an outdoor concert with snow cones, Kitchens said.