SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Youth and adults from Willow Grove Presbyterian Church and St. John's Baptist Church drove to First Presbyterian Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania for their annual service mission trip on July 5. They packed bags of food for a summer food program, played with children who are refugees, loaded cases of food at a regional food bank, and created banners for a summer children’s program.   

On Thursday afternoon they created banners and sorted materials for a community Vacation Bible School program hosted by First Presbyterian Church. Over 100 children from the neighborhoods come to the church for activities, art, games, Bible stories and music. 

In addition to helping with the program for children, the group volunteered at the Refugee Community Center at the Episcopal Church of the Mediator. While adults from the Congo and Syria attended ESL classes, the students played with the children, read books, and did art projects.  This center has been key to helping new refugees resettle in the United States and begin a new chapter of their lives. 

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Serving in local food pantries and regional food banks helped the group learn more about ways food is available to people who do not have enough food for their families, especially in the summer.  At Everlasting Life Ministries, the group packed bags of food for children who would usually have breakfast and lunch at school during the school year. 

The SIXTEEN13 Youth Group at Willow Grove Church had collected food in the spring and brought it to Everlasting Life center. They also unloaded all the shelves at Jerusalem House Food Pantry in Allentown, so new flooring could be installed. On Friday, the group was part of a large team of volunteers at the Second Harvest Food Bank where local agencies come to get food for the week.

"The teenagers who went on the trip deepened their sense of empathy for people who struggle with poverty, deepened their awareness of causes of hunger, and broadened their understanding of children who are refugees," said The Rev. Cynthia Cochran-Carney, Pastor of Willow Grove Church and trip participant. "Through this week of service and reflection, they recommitted themselves to being people of compassion and action. I am inspired by these teenagers. As young people whose Christian faith is rooted in the commandment to love God and neighbor, they give me great hope."

Throughout the year, the SIXTEEN13 youth group raises funds for the mission trip and other service projects by hosting brunches for the congregation, providing help with technology to older adults, and seeking donations.  They meet twice per month for activities, trips to the shore, apple picking, cooking projects, service projects and discussions.

Willow Grove Presbyterian Church is an active Christian congregation committed to spiritual growth for all ages, service to neighbors near and far, and the arts. All worship services and events are open to the public. The church is located at 1961 Raritan Road in Scotch Plains, near the Southside soccer field and firehouse off South Martine Ave.  For more information, call 908-232-5678 or visit www.willowgrovechurch.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Willow.Grove.Presbyterian.Church.