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Largo van ministry helps feed kids during coronavirus pandemic

Justin and Shannon Tellez have been dropping off food for low-income families through the Christian Outreach Center for years. It's never felt more welcomed.

LARGO, Fla. — Justin and Shannon Tellez loaded up their van on Saturday morning with boxes of food and set out to see kids in need.

“We just enjoy it. We just love these kids,” Justin said. “They’re good kids and sometimes forgotten about. And we just want to remember them and let them know how valuable they are.”

The Tellezes have operated Christian Outreach Center for nearly two years. They started as volunteers and now serve up to 50 kids per week by transporting them to and from church events. They also pack and deliver food 3-4 times per week and have put their focus on filling bellies since coronavirus socializing restrictions have kept them from dropping kids off at churches.

“Oh yes. Absolutely it’s a blessing to me,” one parent said after the Tellezes dropped off a giant box of food. “I needed it. As a single mom it gets difficult at times so it comes in handy.”

The route hits familiar neighborhoods in Largo. The COC van, normally full of kids, is just one of many volunteer vehicles on this weekend morning. 

Donated food from individuals in the community is coupled with corporate gifts from Publix and Chick-Fil-A, among other businesses, to piece together meals for needy families. Shannon has used her contacts from her years working in the school districts to supplement donations.

“The truth is that if we do not show up our children that we minister to will not eat,” Justin said.

Shannon, who serves as the director of COC, smiled as she chatted with a child in her doorway. Protective blue medical gloves were eye-catching.

“Safety first”, she said.

The changes brought on by virus concerns around the nation have altered the way the Tellezes have had to conduct their ministry. They’d prefer face-to-face interaction and those much-needed hugs. Instead, an elbow bump accompanies the food deliveries.

The couple is ready to get back to normal.

“The kids tell each other and they are word-of-mouth as well normally brings new kids,” she said. “Taking them out of their environment when they’re in a low-income, high-poverty situation is really valuable. We’re not getting to do that. It is in on the heart-breaking side, for sure.”

Her husband of five years nodded.

“We know that it’s going to grow. We know the guys going to use the coronavirus to build his kingdom for his glory and we’re confident in that," he said.

The COC motto is “full freezers don’t matter if we have empty bellies.” The inverse is being seen now in a time when many of the low-income kids they serve are not receiving meals from their schools. 

COC is delivering meals by the dozens multiple times per week.

“A lot of people don’t have cars,” Shannon said.

All the items are bagged at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Largo where the COC rents the Youth Hall.

“They’re fun,” one child said. “You can come to COC and everybody will care for you. They’ll be your friend.”

Christian Outreach Center hopes to have its own building one day.

“It’s changed us tremendously. I mean, it’s our life now. We are completely dedicated to this community,” Justin said. “(God) didn’t create us to worry he created us to worship. And how we worship is we serve him. That’s how me and my wife worship.”

If you’d like to donate, you can contact them reach out on Facebook or on their website.

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