New Orphan Grain Train facility helps those in need keep on chugging

A Columbus resident in financial need who just moved to a new residence walked out of the Indiana Branch of the Orphan Grain Train outreach ministry with a box of donated, much-needed, used housewares.

She left behind overflowing gratitude at the nonprofit agency’s new, just-dedicated 12,500-square-foot warehouse and office right off State Road 11 in Jonesville.

“I would normally go to the (discount) store,” said Andrea Cook, currently unable to work because of a medical condition. “But that can get expensive.”

Cook was among an early group of clients reaping the benefit of the Lutheran-based effort’s expanded space at 209 S. Jackson St. holding donated clothes, furniture, appliances and other necessities. Leaders recently moved the multi-county ministry’s operations from the farm of former leader Gene Wint of Azalia. Wint used his own property, including a former pig barn, to give Orphan Grain Train an Indiana warehouse since 2002.

Although he was a volunteer, Wint was on the job nearly every day. Now that the ministry has restructured under the leadership of new, volunteer Indiana Branch Manager Gene Ernst, a retired farmer and Lutheran pastor, hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays to drop off or pick up items.

On a recent afternoon, while Ernst tried to work in the office near closing time, people stopped for help or to help others. Those needing items must bring a letter from an area church, organization or social service agency verifying the person’s need.

One woman came in and asked about a bed and discovered none currently were available. A man stopped to ask about a refrigerator. Ernst kindly asked him to call back soon.

“I believe the Lord will provide,” Ernst told him.

Ernst and other leaders say the Lord has provided all but $100,000 of the $675,000 to pay for the move, property and warehouse refurbishing. That total also includes $300,000 to cover three years of operating expenses.

The ministry runs entirely on donations and spends only three percent of its budget on overhead. Hundreds of volunteers, from such varied sources as churches to Cummins Inc., come regularly to sort, check, distribute or pack items, including those to be shipped to dozens of nations worldwide.

“The space we have now first of all allows us not to be nearly stepping on one another,” Ernst said.

He added, though, that the ministry was blessed to use Wint’s facilities for so long when there was no other headquarters available.

A soon-to-added loading dock will make shipping even more efficient, according to Ernst.

“All this exceeds my dreams,” he said.

The ministry was born in 1992 when a Nebraska minister wanted to help desperately poor and hungry people in Latvia after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The clergyman envisioned a train traveling the United States, picking up carloads of grain that eventually would be shipped to eastern Europe. The orphan segment of the name came from the scriptural admonition for believers to show God’s love to the orphans.

Columbus’ Marge Lazzell volunteers two to three days per week at the facility. She looked dumbfounded when asked why she and her husband give so freely of their time.

“I just want to help people and to make them happy to get what they need,” Lazzell said.

On a recent afternoon, she sorted boxes of Christmas decorations to be shipped to the poor living among Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains. As she worked, she pointed out that the new building seemed like an early Christmas gift so the outreach can help more people more efficiently.

“We have lots more room now,” she said. “And at the other place, you had to run from one (storage) trailer to another. But this is really what we all envisioned — and dreamed about.”

How you can help

Leaders of the local branch of Orphan Grain Train say you can help the nonprofit, Lutheran-based ministry several ways. That includes:

  • Prayer — For God to provide good, used items that can be used by the needy, ranging from house fire victims to those facing job loss.
  • Item donations — Needs include beds, furniture, washers and dryers, housewares and other items.
  • Financial help — About $80,000 remains on the ministry’s $675,000 campaign to pay for moving costs that include property, refurbishing the warehouse, and three-year operating expenses. Checks can be sent to: 209 S. Jackson St., Jonesville IN 47247.

About the ministry

Directions from Columbus: Take Indiana 11 south for about 11 miles. In Jonesville, turn right onto County Road 950 South, which is also South Jackson Street. The metal building is on the left just after the turn.

For those with needs: Organizers ask people to phone before driving to the facility. Donations and pickups are made with little or no notice and inventory changes quickly.

Information: 812-405-2045.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.