COMMUNITY Partners’ social worker Christina Thompson sees plenty of area options when her struggling, low-income clients need food. Or clothes. Or even some small pieces of furniture.
But for big-ticket items including couches and appliances, she often sends people to one place: Azalia’s Orphan Grain Train, a nonprofit, Lutheran-based outreach offering donated used items free to those in need.
“There’s nothing else out there quite like it,” said Thompson, who sometimes refers 10 clients per month.
Some are families left with nothing after being burned out of their home. Others have suffered job loss or some other misfortune.
As word about Orphan Grain Train has traveled through the local social service network, agency volunteer manager Gene Wint has seen demand for items such as appliances grow by 50 percent this year.
He hopes to see the public’s generosity grow, too.
“We can’t give away what we don’t have,” he said.
Single mom Christie Johnson knows firsthand the impact of Wint’s ministry. She and her three children sat on the floor of their Columbus apartment for several days when they moved here from Indianapolis nearly two years ago.
They had almost no furniture — and little money to buy any, even from secondhand shops.
Then, Community Partners referred her to Orphan Grain Train. Wint provided her with tables, chairs, dressers, sheets, blankets and even bikes for the kids.
The eight-year-old ministry distributes a wide range of donated goods — clothes, appliances, furniture, books, medical equipment, electronics and more — to needy people worldwide. It was born in 1992 when a Nebraska pastor wanted to help desperately poor and hungry people in Latvia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The minister 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.
Wint, who was familiar with the national organization through his home church, St. Peter’s Lutheran, said he launched the local outlet in 2003 when he felt God nudging him to help others this way.
When the 78-year-old retiree launched the local outlet, Bartholomew County Lutheran Church members donated to his cause. The generosity has spread, and now more than 100 churches across Indiana help to fill the growing inventory packed in 35 semitrailers on Wint’s four-acre farm property.
Wint said he serves simply as a resource.
“Every morning when I get up, I say, ‘Here I am, Lord. Lead me, guide me to do your will in the way you want it done today.’”
Beds and appliances, some of the most requested items, are not the only things Wint needs to keep his operation running. He still can use more volunteers, even though some churches send teams of several people per visit to divide items, fold clothes and perform other tasks. Volunteer Don Niemoeller has worked there for seven years repairing electronics.
On a recent day, he fixed a DVD player and a vacuum.
Wint hopes to see an increase in donations so he can keep pace with the demand both locally and worldwide. He recently sent a full semitrailer loaded with clothes, appliances, cookware and school desks to Mexico.
But the ministry’s impact locally has been substantial, most notably after the 2008 flood, when it donated more than 10,000 items to more than 400 area families.
“We want to do whatever we can,” Wint said, “with whatever we have.”
Orphan Grain Train needs
Gene Wint, manager of Azalia’s Orphan Grain Train, which gives away everything from appliances to toys to needy area families, said the nonprofit ministry needs:
Goods, including appliances such as ovens and refrigerators, furniture such as beds, toys and more
Time in the form of volunteers.
Items can be dropped off at 121670 S. County Road 340E.