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When the youth group from the First Church of the Nazarene in Spokane, Wash., flew out of Juneau early this morning, its members left behind medical supplies, toiletries, vanloads of food and a small storage building.
The items went to the Glory Hole, a dining hall and homeless shelter downtown run by a coalition of local church groups. The 26 high school students, college-age youths and adult advisers spent a week in Juneau on a "witness and work" trip that combined community service, a little sightseeing and God's word.
Youth pastor James Taylor, who grew up in Juneau, floated the idea of a trip to Alaska after visiting with the Glory Hole about ways the church could help.
"We were looking for a project that was little different and contacted several places," Taylor said. "It was a lot of fun. Hopefully, it's stuff they need."
The church group distributed 1,000 fliers, minus the one that became a paper airplane, in Douglas and the Mendenhall Valley last week, asking for donations of food. Group members then went door-to-door to collect items for the Glory Hole.
"It was fun. The weather was gorgeous," said 18-year-old Jenelle Bofus.
While whale watching was one highlight of the trip, Nick Dotson, 21, said his favorite part was the "work and witness" element.
"The best part was seeing the community get involved, how responsive they were to the food drive and how happy they were to give," he said.
The work started long before the group arrived in Juneau. Participants brought suitcases of clothing, 250 bags of toiletries and medical supplies with them. Each young person raised $750 to make the trip. For one fund-raising project, group members lived in cardboard boxes for a weekend, taking pledges for each hour spent outside their church.
"Our church totally did an awesome job sponsoring us," 19-year-old Jillian Crisler said. "A lot of work went into it. We're here to witness God's love to everyone."
Such trips are not unusual for the youth group, which has traveled to Mexico to volunteer in the past. The church's junior high youth group is spending time at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming this summer, taking part in a similar project, Taylor said.
The Glory Hole has received help from groups in the past, but has never seen this much assistance from one group at one time, said Executive Director Joan Decker. The kitchen's supply of canned goods was depleted before the church group arrived, but the food drive likely will keep it stocked with nonperishable items until the holidays, she said.
"It's a very unusual group. We're very impressed," she said. "It shows what young people can do if they're guided in the right direction ... It really floored us."
A new building the group built behind the Glory Hole will be used to store tools, Decker said. The wooden structure was built by the church group under the supervision of Spokane contractor Jerry Kostelecky, his son Jason and Matt Taylor, brother of the youth pastor. Juneau's Church of the Nazarene donated vans for the food drive and other activities, James Taylor said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.