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San Antonio youth lend a hand in Victoria

By Sonny Long
July 25, 2012 at 2:25 a.m.
Updated July 26, 2012 at 2:26 a.m.

Michele Koch, youth director at St. Francis Episcopal Church in San Antonio, and 15-year-old Hanna Harris serve lunch at Christ's Kitchen in Victoria. Three students from the church are on a mission trip this week in Victoria.

ON A MISSION

The three students from St. Francis Episcopal Church in San Antonio attend three different schools in the San Antonio area.

• Sarah Branaum, 16, Champion High School, Boerne

• Hannah Harris, 15, Communications Arts High School, San Antonio

• Emily Harris, 12, Rawlinson Middle School, San Antonio

Hannah and Emily Harris have more in common than being sisters.

They both love the smiles on the faces of the people they served lunch to Wednesday at Christ's Kitchen in Victoria.

"I enjoy helping people," said Hannah, 15. "Seeing all the smiling faces and knowing I'm doing something good."

Her younger sister, Emily, 12, agreed.

"I like seeing them smile," she said. "They are nice."

The sisters are two members of the St. Francis Episcopal Church of San Antonio youth group on a mission trip to Victoria.

They, along with fellow missionary Sarah Branaum, 16, and youth director Michele Koch served more than 250 diners from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Christ's Kitchen volunteer cook Jimmy Whitaker was impressed with the young visitors.

"They showed up early - about 8:30 a.m. - and helped cut up fruit and vegetables," Whitaker said. "They worked hard. They did anything and everything we asked them to do. They were very helpful."

The Harris' mom, Laura Harris, is also part of the group and helped clean tables as the lunch progressed.

She has high hopes her daughters are learning valuable lessons.

"Our mission is all about learning about God's love," she said. "We are doing a Bible study each night to talk about the true meaning of God's love and expressing that in different ways. I hope they are learning that."

In addition to volunteering at Christ's Kitchen, the girls have helped with vacation bible school at Trinity Episcopal Church, volunteered at the senior citizens center and plan to put in time at Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry and the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent.

"They were so helpful," said Debra Garner, executive director of the senior citizens center. "They served food, called bingo and helped some of the elderly who have trouble seeing play bingo. They also cleaned. They were a big help."

Gene Martin, executive director of Christ's Kitchen, also thinks the girls are learning about life.

"They have come down to work with us and see what we do. They are here to get an idea that the world is just not all roses. There are people that need help," Martin said. "We hope to give them a good experience, so they know where we are coming from and how we are helping so they can get an idea how they can help when they go back to San Antonio."

One good experience came unexpectedly, said Sarah.

"We were walking around downtown and came across the Children's Discovery Museum," she said. "It was almost closing time and we offered to help the lady clean up, so we got in free. That was the best part."

Paige Gedvillas, interim museum director, said the girls were a godsend.

"They just happened to walk in the door about 20 minutes before we closed, when I was having the worst day at the museum," said Gedvillas. "Kids had trashed the place and exhibit items had been broken. I was dreading cleaning everything. It was an 'on the verge of tears' kind of moment when they came in.

"I told the girls of course they could come in, but half jokingly said, 'Just please put things back because no one else has today.'

"They must have seen it in my eyes because they said, 'Don't worry about it, we'll take care of it. We're missionaries from San Antonio and this is what we do.'

"Then I got teary eyed again, gave them hugs and thanked them. They cleaned up everything and even offered to do more.

"They absolutely restored my faith in people."

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