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story.lead_photo.caption First Presbyterian Pastor Angela Madden hands out recognition certificates to children in the congregation on Sunday as part of Children's Sabbath Sunday. Photo by Gerry Tritz / News Tribune.

First Presbyterian Church on Sunday celebrated Children's Sabbath Sunday, rededicating itself to children in Jefferson City and, through mission work, those in other countries.

The event was through the church's affiliation with the Children's Defense Fund, a national charity organization aiming to improve the spirit, mind and bodies of youth, particularly paying attention to the needs of poor children, children of color and those with disabilities.

The organization was founded in 1973 by Marion Wright Edelman, an American activist for children's rights.

"It calls everyone to emphasize across the nation the importance of lifting up childhood awareness and issues that deal with the most vulnerable of the least of these," Pastor Angela Madden said in an interview after the Sunday service.

This year, she said, the emphasis is on childhood poverty, in particular health, including being able to access clean water and sustainable food.

The church operates a food pantry that, in the summer, feeds local children daily. It also operates a K-Plus program, a free preschool. It also has a preschool that's privately funded by families and also supported by the church. That program is in its 37th year, Madden said.

The church also works with youth in other countries. In Nepal, it feeds and educates children. In Peru, it deals with various child-related issues. In Malawi, it helps children affected by health issues such as AIDS, Madden said.

Madden touched on some of the children's issues in her sermon: "Teaching children and youth to love God and to know that God has a place for them to belong is pivotal," she said.

During Sunday's service, Madden gave out certificates of recognition to the children in the congregation.

One family that has been helped through the church's focus on youth is Curtis and Gerwanda Dee. Originally from St. Louis, they moved in 2015 to Jefferson City, where they live with their nine children.

Gerwanda Dee said life in St. Louis was rough, but within two weeks of moving to Jefferson City, one of her neighbors gave her a flyer about First Presbyterian's K-Plus program. It was through a church, she said, so she trusted it.

"They believe in Jesus, so that was a plus for me," she said.

So she decided to enroll two of her children. "Ever since then, everything's been good," she said.

Two of her children have gone through the program, and two are currently in it, she said.

The church and the K-Plus program, she said, have helped to support them through their rough times, including her having two surgeries. She also said her husband's earnings have resulted in Medicaid cuts to their family.

For Christmas 2017, the church adopted her family, she said.

Her children look forward to seeing the teachers at the K-Plus program each day.

"My kids, they love them. They love them like family, you know?" she said.

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