While we wait for the container to get through customs, here at the house we busily prepare for the arrival. We have to rearrange our home to make room for the gigantic pile of donations, and we also need enough empty space so that we can have room to work on putting together the gifts. This year we put up a tarp outside, and the organizing and creating of gifts was done there each day - even though that meant that the boxes and boxes of stuff had to be dragged out of the building in the morning and safely stowed back in the building each night.
Eventually, we get the call from the port telling us that the container is headed our way. . . "Container Day" has arrived! Normally, we get about 10 hours warning, before the truck arrives in Gracias. During this time Russell makes arrangements for the unloading - hiring a couple of local trucks and some extra manpower. Then the fun begins for us!
The tractor trailer drives the 40' container to the city of
Gracias, but that type of vehicle cannot make it up the rough and steep dirt roads all the way to our property. We drive all of our vehicles into Gracias and, along with the two local trucks we hire and our expanded work crew, we meet the truck at the side of the road just outside the city. Just like the loading in Maryland, we have two hours for unloading the container - if we take longer we have to pay penalties - and the work crew quickly moves all of the donations from the big truck to the smaller vehicles. Once the container has been emptied, the fleet of smaller vehicles drives out to our property and are then unloaded into our buildings. This double unloading process is a bit grueling, but that's the best way we've found to do this.
The volunteers in Maryland mark all of the boxes for us with different colors of spray paint, so that we can quickly and easily sort the boxes into categories as they are unloaded. This year the categories included: items for Gifts for Gracias, items for MK Camp, donated used clothing, personal items (some for us, some personal items which were shipped for other missionaries), tools and educational supplies for another ministry running vocational/technical schools in our area, etc. The swatches of color on the boxes help us to unload the container in a fairly organized fashion, and makes it possible for us to find things much more quickly than in years past, when everything arrived mixed together and relatively unlabeled. Thanks again, Cofer family, for adding this innovation to the process in recent years.
Once the clothing has been sorted, and some general
organizing of the other donations has been completed, we make up what we call "starter gifts." These are packages containing items which will be part of every gift we give - usually this will be a soccer ball, a backpack, a collection of school/office supplies, a baseball cap, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and shampoo, and any other items which we know we have in sufficient quantity to include one or more in every gift.
Then it is finally time to create the individualized gifts! Because this project has been ongoing for several years, the pastors know to send us their information, so that we can put
together a gift for them. Usually, the supervisors of denominations will create a list of all of the pastors working under them, and local communities with pastor associations will also put together lists for us. To make a good gift, we need the name of the pastor, whether or not they have a spouse, and the ages and genders of the children in the family. We don't know clothing sizes, but we guess based on this information, knowing that if the clothing doesn't fit the individuals listed, there will certainly be someone in their lives who can use it! We put together clothing, accessories, school supplies, toys, and housewares based on this information.
When the gifts for everyone on a particular list are
completed, we contact the supervisor who submitted the list, and arrange for them to come and collect the gifts. In the past we delivered the gifts ourselves, especially as we were meeting the pastors for the first times and getting to know the communities where they minister - but now there are so many gifts being distributed that we send them out by the truckload!
Will we be doing this again in 2015? We're now at the stage where we make that decision. A number of people have already told us they'd like to help again this year. We'll have to decide soon. If you're interested in reading about why we do this project, here's a link for you.