The desperate airlift out of Kabul had barely kicked into gear last month when a call went out to the State of Wisconsin’s Volunteer Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD) group. The sudden collapse of the Afghan government meant there was an urgent need for clothing in order to help the displaced Afghans arriving with only what they had on them.
Alice Garrett, the Wisconsin Adventist Community Services Director, eventually learned 12,600 Afghans were arriving at Fort McCoy, an Army base some 170 miles from Milwaukee, where the refugees would be processed before being mostly dispersed to other states.
Garrett sent an email to Wisconsin state pastors and Adventist churches asking for new clothes for men, women and children. It was decided to try to get necessities such as underwear, socks, and other new clothing by September 9th. As it was also Labor Day weekend, it was very short notice.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Garrett. “The pastors and members responded, and we delivered 95 boxes with an estimated 2,000 items. What a blessing!”
Since the need was still great, a decision was made to organize another clothing drive, this time for a longer period. On September 10th, Garrett dashed off another email to the pastors, ACS leaders, and certified volunteers to start another collection - this time focusing on winter clothing, such as jackets, boots, and warm sweatshirts. The plan was to close the drive on September 27 to be able to deliver the items on September 30.
Once again, a rush of items came in. Volunteers sorted about 1,300 items and packaged the goods in 94 boxes, labeled with the contents. This brought the total to 189 boxes and 3,300 items collected in just one month.
Garrett noted, “When we look at the vast number of 12,600 people, we ask, ‘How can we possibly even make a dent in this vast endeavor? Our 189 boxes were just a drop in the bucket.’ But, when we take the attitude that each one of us is reaching another, the job is essentially finished in a month! We serve a big God!”
During this period, over $10,000 in monetary donations was received from Wisconsin church members, as well as from individuals in Michigan and Minnesota. “Every penny will go to help these people,” said Garrett. “We have, and are continuing to purchase, what is the immediate need, and that includes a lot of winter coats, underwear, toddlers’ clothes, and infant formula.”
Garrett and the other ACS volunteers have drawn the attention of others.
“As we finished unloading the trailer at the armory,” said Garrett, “the volunteers [from another organization helping with the donations management] came over to us and said, ‘Thank you for your load. It is all sorted and labeled, and we can send it on to Fort McCoy right away.’”
The North American Division has noticed the smooth operation in Wisconsin. Derrick Lea, Adventist Community Services Director, said that Garrett and her team continue to lead ACS efforts in this area [of organizing aid for Afghans]. “It's the relationships that have been developed previously that enable us to be engaged within our community when crisis events take place,” said Lea. “I rely on Alice and her team of dedicated team members to rally our church members to respond when calls for help go out. It's a privilege to work with those willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their local communities.”
As of September 29th, more than 300,000 clothing items had been processed at the armory - a value of about $2.8 million. At this point, no more clothing will be collected as Fort McCoy is transitioning into resettlement and relocating the refugees.