Making a world of difference: Jonesville’s Lutheran outreach helping in Ukraine, Kentucky, locally

JONESVILLE — The Lutheran-oriented and locally based outreach known as Orphan Grain Train is making a world of difference at the moment — in war-torn Ukraine, with southeastern Kentucky flood victims, and with last year’s Madisonville, Kentucky tornado victims finally getting resettled in homes and needing items such as furniture.

The outreach’s warehouses and storage buildings loaded with everything from clothing to cookware are located at 209 S. Jackson St. in southern Bartholomew County. But those items are reaching people far and wide these days with the help of local donors and volunteers.

Such has been true despite myriad challenges. For example, the first container being shipped to Ukraine was scheduled to leave here in May. It finally happened Aug. 3.

“First there were trucker problems, then supply chain problems, then container problems getting things onto a vessel,” said Gene Ernst, Indiana branch manager for the ministry. “One thing just seemed to lead to another.”

The outreach runs entirely on donations and spends only about 3% 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. Plus, the outreach regularly helps local residents too.

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.

People such as Madison resident Paul Malcomb, who is a design engineer manager at Toyota Material Handling in Columbus, are among regular volunteers. He began donating time there about three years at the urging of a coworker at Toyota, which gives employees two full, paid days to work on behalf of community organizations. Last month, he recruited a team of volunteers to pack and load the container for Ukranians.

“To do something like that really gives your volunteerism a real sense of deep meaning,” Malcomb said. “You know without a doubt that each item you’re packing into boxes for that trailer are really going to be used.

“I mean, these people have lost everything. And they are now starting from scratch.”

One of the main components of helping Kentucky flood victims was an Aug. 13 public supplies dropoff. Local residents donated cleaning supplies, brooms, mops, rakes, and shovels for the affected homes to be cleaned out. They also gave gallons of hand sanitizer, cartons of cleaning wipes, health kits, along with household goods, canned goods, and nonperishable food.

Five-hundred pounds of beans alone were dropped off at the Orphan Grain Train headquarters. Two 18-foot Orphan Grain Train trailers were loaded for delivery to Whitesburg in southeastern Kentucky, according to Ernst. He went there himself.

“The devastation was gut-wrenching,” Ernst said. “It was heartbreaking to see. There is still a lot of (flood) debris — furniture, tin from pole barns — caught in the trees 25 and 30 feet up.

“Yet, at the same time, you’d see churches with signs out front reading ‘free meals,’ or ‘We’ll do your laundry.’”

Another heartening sight was seeing the powerful work of global ministry outreach Samaritan’s Purse among the ravaged region, according to Ernst.

“They are Johnny-on-the-spot,” Ernst said. “That is an organization that blows my mind.”

Through the years, people have said much the same about the resourcefulness of Orphan Grain Train.

How to help

To find out more about Orphan Grain Train, go the website at ogt.org/branches/indiana/ where financial donations can be made to the local Indiana branch at that online address.