Instead of passing around the offering plate at this summer’s vacation Bible school, students at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church donated 176 glue sticks, 122 tennis balls, 86 towels and more for three area nonprofits.

But it’s the mission of the 18 sixth-graders who participated in the Aug. 5 to 9 summer program that took VBS on the go. While elementary-aged students participated in crafts, music and Bible stories, the program’s rising sixth-graders from south Charlotte have been delivering the nearly 200 students’ donations to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control, A Child’s Place and Loaves & Fishes food pantry.

Terry Gaines, a South Mecklenburg Presbyterian member, was the coordinator of the 2013 VBS Mission Possible Team. She said they started the sixth-grade program six years ago as an outlet for rising sixth-graders who find themselves too old for traditional VBS but too young for teen-related and youth group activities.

“They are just in no man’s land,” Gaines said, adding there is no better time to teach students about service and missions than when they are young.

“We should never underestimate their capacity for compassion. When they get in the habit of serving others at this age, they will continue because they really want to,” she said.

The students kicked off their week by learning to “Love God, love neighbor,” preparing the students for a week of service in the community to help God’s creatures, the homeless and the hungry.

The students started their mission week by taking donations of tennis balls, towels, dog and cat toys and newspapers to Animal Care & Control, where they visited and learned about God’s neglected creatures.

For rising Community House Middle School sixth-grader Gabbie Frech, she was surprised at the amount of animals turned over to Animal Care & Control. An average of 50 animals per day, ranging from cats and dogs to horses, rabbits and goats, are turned over to the organization.

“Pets are expensive and people sometimes don’t think about how much pets will cost,” Gabbie said. “Some people are neglecting pets and not feeding them enough.”

Gabbie’s friend Julia Haines thought giving pets to Animal Care & Control was a rare thing. “It surprised me how many people really do that to their pets,” she said.

Pet owners should always get their animals spayed or neutered, Julia added, to ensure no unexpected puppies come up without a home.

The group also delivered glue sticks, crayons, pencil pouches, notebooks, colored pencils and markers to nonprofit A Child’s Place, which provides services and resources to about 2,600 of Mecklenburg County’s more than 4,700 homeless children.

Gaines said many of the students were surprised to find homelessness exists in all parts of the city, and at least one homeless child attends every Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools campus.

“There are a lot of homeless kids in CMS schools, and they look just like us,” Julia added.

The group also went shopping for supplies for Loaves & Fishes. Shopping at Harris Teeter, students learned what it means to shop for a week’s worth of groceries on a $35 budget, seeking the most nutrition for cheap, such as canned soup, powdered milk and canned meat. The kids delivered the supplies Friday morning.

For the students, Gaines said the mission week opened their eyes to areas of need they might not see every day – encouraging students to continue to serve with their resources and time.

“It’s kind of a privilege for them, but they have large hearts and they have a huge capacity for caring,” Gaines said.

From South Charlotte Weekly, Aug. 9, 2013

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