“Hello, Junior? Don’t head home just yet — I need you to pick up the load in Blanco for us — we don’t have any space left!”
That was what Adventist Community Services driver Gerald Mohr told the driver of the other truck picking up used clothing collections. 21 Central Texas churches participated in the Lenten clothing drive this year. They had just broken another record, over-flowing his 51-foot semi-trailer and still having almost enough to fill the second.
The campaign began in 2011, when the First United Methodist Church in Johnson City partnered with Seventh-day Adventist Community Services in Keene, south of Ft. Worth, to collect used clothing for processing before they were needed for victims of disasters.
“The problem the Adventists had solved was the window of need for used clothing only lasts 24 to 48 hours after a disaster,” explained Pastor Lee Romero of First United Methodist Church in Johnson City. “By the time generous people can mount a collection campaign and deliver the clothes, the need is long since over, and the clothing becomes just more debris to be cleaned up.”
The Adventists take in donated clothes in advance, sanitize them, sort them, and package them for storage — until a disaster strikes, then they load one of their trucks and drive overnight to be outside a shelter with clean, dry clothes when survivors start their day.
The drive started in 2011 with First United Methodist Church, Johnson City and has now spread to the Hill Country District in 2016, with participation by churches from Austin to Uvalde.
“We know all too well the value of this disaster clothing program,” explained the Rev. Todd Salmi, Associate Pastor at First United Methodist in San Marcos.
“When we had our flooding from the Blanco River last year, the Adventists’ truck was here to help our flooded neighbors with clothes donated months earlier by some of these same churches. Now this is our turn to return the favor to people in places that don’t yet know they’re going to need this help.”
In Johnson City this year, the Methodists’ collection partners included the First Baptist Church, Good Shepherd Catholic Church, First Christian Church, Community Church of the Hills and the Friends of the Library Resale Shop.
“We’ve been on board with this program from the start, and we’ve learned no one denomination, much less any one church, can fill that truck by itself, but pulling together we can work a miracle and pack the truck so tight they have to call for help,” said First Christian Church Pastor Ernest Topper.
Mohr's truck had begun its route the day before, picking up the collections at Castroville and Sabinal, then working its way north, while the second truck went down I-35 on the eastern leg. Mohr was supposed to make Johnson City his next-to-last stop, then to Blanco United Methodist Church and head home.
When it left Johnson City, the big trailer was packed right up to the doors, and Mohr was calling for help to finish his trip.
“What a great way to wind up a donation drive,” said District Super Intendent Rev. Bill Henderson. “Giving so much the recipients couldn’t carry it all. And what a great statement it makes for the people and churches of the Hill Country and Central Texas, responding overwhelmingly to the needs of people they’ll never know.”
But, of course, that isn’t the end. The planners in the participating churches already are thinking about how to make it bigger, better and wider in the next Lenten season.
“[We're] looking forward to next year,” exulted Jodie Claes at Kyle United Methodist Church. “We are already in talks with the Baptist church clothing closet across the street."
Written by George Barnette, Special Contributor