The Old Orchard Beach Pier
“If you come back tomorrow, we’ll know how to make it for you,” said Sheila Lucero. A little boy had just asked her how to make a new balloon design. The request had stumped her. That night, Sheila and her husband Alfredo went back to their hotel room and looked up videos on social media until they found one that explained how to make that specific animal with balloons. The next day, the boy returned to the Pier Festival to find the new animal he wanted. “It’s a new balloon, a new skill learned, and a second chance for ministry,” Sheila said.
The week Sheila and Alfredo Lucero spend at the Pier Festival at Old Orchard Beach (OOB) Maine has become a summer tradition. Their balloon ministry has grown into one of the most popular attractions at the Pier during The Salvation Army’s week at OOB.
Eleven years ago, when they attended The Salvation Army Astoria, Queens Corps, Majors Angelo and Virginia Bermeo, corps officers at the time, convinced them to come up to Maine for the camp meetings.
“It was an honor and a blessing to be invited, but we didn’t know anything about Maine, Old Orchard Beach, or the Bermeo’s plans to give away balloon animals to families at the Pier,” says Lucero. “We didn’t have the help of volunteers to set up and prepare everything for us like we do today. We didn’t even have a cart to work out of. It was just us and the officers, loading and unloading our supplies every day. We were going in blindfolded, but we let God guide the ministry.”
Sheila assisted by filling up balloons with air, which Alfredo and Major Angelo would then twist into balloon sculptures. But as the lines of children wanting balloons grew longer as more families approached them, Sheila knew she had to step in to help.
“I started with a simple dog design, but my husband had quickly learned to make bunnies and other more complicated animals,” says Sheila.
Today, Sheila and Alfredo are well skilled in the art of balloon sculpting. They easily twist multicolored balloons into recognizable shapes and figures for children as they talk to parents about God and The Salvation Army.
When the Lucero children, Matthew and Sharlene, first came to OOB, grandmother Gloria and the children would take coffee and water to the parents as they tirelessly worked afternoons and nights at the Pier. Now as adults, the younger Luceros participate in ministry only a few feet away from their parents. Matthew and Sharlene assist at another booth where they do face painting for children visiting the Pier.
“I see how God has worked in my children’s lives,” says Sheila. “When Matthew was younger, he was shy around others, but when he arrives at the Pier, he talks to every family about the Army and how they can get balloons for their kids. Every summer when we arrive, he tells me, ‘Mom, I’m ready to do God’s work.’ To hear him say that brings me joy,” says Sheila.
The Luceros recognize many of the families that vacation at Old Orchard Beach. They look forward to seeing them. Says Sheila, “That’s when we show them that The Salvation Army is much more than a store, a red kettle at Christmas, or even what they’re seeing here at Old Orchard Beach. We’re a church, and we do this work in the name of God.
“When you hand someone a balloon and remind them that Jesus loves them, sometimes they say they’ve never heard those words before,” says Sheila. “That gives me such strength and motivation to come back the next day to work for God at the Pier. It reminds me of why we return to Old Orchard Beach.”
by Hugo Bravo