For The Tribune

The area now has a new facility to assist families and individuals in need, both up the street and around the world.

Orphan Grain Train Indiana Branch recently celebrated the grand opening of its new facility in Jonesville with a dedication service and ribbon-cutting ceremony. About 200 people turned out for the event.

The nonprofit organization accepts donations of gently used clothing, housewares and furniture, which volunteers then sort and package for shipping to people in need in 63 countries around the world, including here in the United States.

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Local families in need of anything from appliances and mattresses to clothing and household items also can come to the facility between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday and pick up these items for free. A referral from a social agency or church is required when one comes.

“It amazes me how the Lord provides for the needs of our communities,” said Gene Ernst, branch manager. “There is such a need for the basic household items, and when we have them, we can provide them. It takes many people donating so that OGT can help others, even as the Lord has first blessed us.”

The 12,000-square-foot building increases the size of its former location in Azalea and will enable volunteers at the branch to expand operations significantly due to warehousing of items.

“It’s one of just 13 branches across the nation that is capable of both collections and shipping,” said Grant Schmidt, vice president of operations at Orphan Grain Train’s headquarters in Norfolk, Nebraska.

He has high hopes for the facility.

“Our hope is for this branch to take a much bigger role in international shipping,” he said. “It’s more attractive for people to be a part of, and that means more supplies, more donations, more productivity. It will really help to raise the awareness of Orphan Grain Train because this branch will be able to do so much more. With more awareness, there’s more outreach and more demand. A strong Indiana branch will boost what Orphan Grain Train can do annually for people in need.”

And the need is great.

In the past four years, Orphan Grain Train and its many branches has given away more than $21 million in materials and supplies to people in need around the world and right here at home. In 2014, the organization shipped 54 40-foot containers full of clothing and supplies overseas and an additional 73 domestically.

Ray Wilke, founder and president of Orphan Grain Train, also attended the ceremony. Taking note of the buzz of excitement as he looked around the packed room, he said, “Out of this place, tens of thousands of lives will be saved. But saving a life is only part of it. Saving a life for eternity is the payoff.”

And then he shared what motivates him, what one imagines motivates every volunteer at Orphan Grain Train.

“I’ve been on the receiving end when these containers get opened,” he said. “The love these volunteers put into the shipments is the love they take out.”

Wilke shared the story of a young woman in a women’s prison in Latvia. She had been in prison for six months for stealing four oranges to feed her family. She was handed a package that contained a hygiene kit and clothing, but when she laid eyes on the colorful quilt that had been sewn with loving hands by a woman right here in Indiana, she burst into tears.

“Against the drab gray walls of her prison cell, that quilt brought a little cheer to her life,” Wilke said.

Orphan Grain Train provides everything but the food and shelter to 84 orphanages, two women’s prisons, two men’s prisons and one hospital in Russia.

But there is great need all over the world, which is why the opening of the newly expanded Indiana facility is so important.

Thanks to the generosity of many individuals, families, churches, schools and organizations, land was purchased and renovations on the building were completed without any loans. The four acres of land upon which the facility sits will allow for future expansion, enabling the branch to help even more people in the future.

Daniel May, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Indiana District, raved about the possibilities.

“What a gift from God, for the volunteers to use their gifts to God’s glory to help people around the world,” he said. “I have a special place in my heart for orphans. My dad was an orphan. I know what a blessing these kinds of Christian gifts are. My father was blessed by the church and the Lutheran congregation who helped him grow in his faith, and now, his children and his children’s children carry on that faith. Never underestimate what these gifts, these hands of Jesus, can accomplish for God’s glory.”

Members of the Indiana District of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League have been among those offering their gifts, having been a steadfast supporter of Orphan Grain Train in the past 10 years.

LWML District President Emily Rogers said she was excited to be at the ribbon-cutting.

“John 4:19 says we love because He first loved us,” she said. “Organizations like Orphan Grain Train give us an opportunity to show that love. The women of LWML have made quilts. We help sort the items for the shipments — things we may not think are very important mean a whole lot to a lot of other people. Our members have also been able to raise $46,000 for Orphan Grain Train, which has helped with truck repairs and equipment. It’s amazing what those little mite boxes can do.”

Mite boxes are where LWML members collect their spare change to be donated collectively to charities, such as Orphan Grain Train.

At a glance

Orphan Grain Train, founded in 1992 in Norfolk, Nebraska, operates entirely on donations and devotes 97 percent of all of the funds it collects to providing goods for the poor, using just 3 percent for operations.

If you would like to contribute to Orphan Grain Train, make a check payable to Orphan Grain Train Indiana Branch and mail it to 209 Jackson, Jonesville, IN 47247.

Volunteers also are always needed to help sort and pack materials for shipments. To volunteer, call 812-405-2045.