Iowa’s Bless You organization provides homes, hope
Duane Drost has been helping people get back on their feet since 2012.
Through his organization, Bless You, Inc., located in Sibley, Iowa, the man who once farmed the soil now helps nurture people instead of corn.
Drost provides travel trailers and campers for people to live in, free of charge, for a year after their home has been destroyed due to natural disasters.
His fleet of 25 campers has been used as residences across the nation, in Oklahoma, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Montana, California, and other states, after hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, and other disasters.
The temporary residences are also used in cases of domestic violence, when the woman needs a place to get away to.
But the story starts with Drost years ago, as a child.
Physically abused by his dad, he grew up with hate and anger in his heart and mind.
If the kids, nine in all with Duane as the youngest, weren’t sitting straight at the table, his dad would punch them in the face. Once, twelve-year-old Duane and his brother were cleaning out a clogged auger with pipe wrenches when his dad came along. Assuming the boys caused the clog, he used the pipe wrenches on them.
By the ninth grade, Drost dropped out of school. “I’d learned to hate and was always angry,” he said.
As a young adult in the late 1970s, he began farming and got married. A few years later, the ‘80s farm crisis hit and he was bankrupt, left with nothing. “I had nobody to help me,” he said.
His marriage produced two sons and a daughter, but it was rocky, too. “I went from a rotten childhood to a rotten marriage,” he said. Drost didn’t know how to be a husband or a father, but the couple stayed together for eighteen years for the kids, then divorced.
Then, in 2003, his daughter died at age 20 of a diabetic reaction. It was a turning point in his life.
His ex-wife and her family wouldn’t let him help clean out her apartment or even see the sympathy cards. “When that all came about, I didn’t think life was worth living,” he said.
So, at age 45, he tried to commit suicide, using a gun. But it didn’t work. Drost was rushed to a hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., with severe damage to his internal organs. Doctors told him he would never walk again and would be on dialysis the rest of his life.
During his hospital stay, he was in horrendous pain, “and I couldn’t take it,” he said. “That’s when God stepped up and really showed me who He was. He just touched me on my side and took the pain away.”
God provided healing. “He fixed me and used the right doctors to fix me up.” Drost has never been on dialysis and is able to do everything he’s always done.
Before the attempted suicide, he had asked God for forgiveness of sins and called out to Him, asking “if you’re this awesome God, why aren’t you helping?” After his healing, “it took me a long time to understand this stuff.”
He started going to church again, and a pastor who was helping him through his tough times asked him, “Duane, what are you going to do with this?”
It took four or five years for him to sort things out, to “think things through, to get my marbles together, learning what God wanted me to do. I thought, one day, why not help people who are in need and hopefully show them what Jesus is all about?”
He understood losing everything and having no home because of his bankruptcy years ago. “When I filed bankruptcy, I lost everything and had to start over. I figured that would be a good place to start.”
Since he began Bless You, Inc. eight years ago, he’s worked solely on donations. Some people donate used campers that are in good condition, and sometimes he buys them, used, with monetary donations. His wife, Lisa, helps with the organization.
The campers are hauled to and from their locations by about thirty volunteers, who pay for fuel, hotel stays and meals. Drost makes sure one hundred percent of donations go back to the charity.
“There is nobody in this organization who gets paid a dime,” he said. “We don’t get paid, the bookkeeper doesn’t get paid, nobody gets paid.”
“What’s so cool about it is God brought the right people to me and they think the same way. We all have our jobs, and none of us have to be paid because we have jobs.”
Bless You Inc. hasn’t done any advertising, it’s all been word of mouth. People hear about what the charity provides and call Drost, asking for campers or trailers.
He usually works through a local church, asking them to keep an eye on the trailer for the time it’s being used, and asking them to help the inhabitants with other needs, like food, clothing and transportation. Each trailer Drost lends comes provided with bedding, towels, and food.
He requires the inhabitants to sign liability waivers, and has had a few campers destroyed by people who take advantage of the free housing.
But Drost has learned to handle his displeasure. “It’s almost like God lets me get angry, but then he shows me, ‘Duane, don’t worry about it. I’ve got your back.’ Somebody will donate something to replace it.”
Jim and Sharlene Buss, Atkinson, Neb., have volunteered with Bless You, Inc. since it started. They’ve made two trips, hauling campers to or from their intended destinations, often taking their kids along on the trips.
It’s an overwhelming experience, Sharlene said. “It’s totally different than writing a check,” as a donation.
It’s a chance to help someone else, up close and personal, “and (the recipients) aren’t in far, far away countries,” she said. “They’re a couple hundred miles away, and you don’t have to see it on the news, that the need is from a Third World country. It’s happening here.”
She loves to be part of the charity, “meeting (recipients), seeing what they’re going through, and knowing their children have a place to sleep at night.”
It’s also benefited them in expanding their world, she said. “You get stuck in your own little community and you don’t realize what’s going on around you. You think things like this (only) happen in a Third World Country and they don’t.” Her kids benefit, too, in “letting them experience it and seeing it’s not all about me.”
The trailers often open up a chance for Drost to share his faith. “When I take a trailer somewhere, people ask, why are you doing this? It gives me the opportunity to speak,” he said. He emphasizes Jesus’ forgiveness and helping others.
He tells the story about a trip he and the Buss family made to Corpus Christi, Texas, a year ago, to retrieve two trailers. One trailer had a low tire, so the inhabitant followed them to the gas station, to air it up. “He came crying to us, and said, ‘I just have to pray with you guys before you leave.’ Here we stood, in front of the gas station door, eight of us in a circle, holding hands, while he prayed.” Drost has hundreds of stories like that, he said. “That’s a set-up from God, that stuff is.”
Through his faith in Jesus, Drost learned to forgive. He forgave his dad before he passed away. “Forgiveness is not for anyone else but yourself,” he said. “It’s to be free and not hold grudges.”
And because of his attempted suicide, he is often asked to speak about it to groups, schools, and individuals. He wishes it was less secretive. “Be honest, be open, be truthful,” he said. He believes suicide has nothing to do with anyone but the person who has committed it. “When I tried to take my own life, it wasn’t about anyone else. It was my own pain and suffering.
“People have got to start understanding what suicide is about, and I think if we were more open about it, there’d be less of it.” He says people sometimes just need someone to listen to them. “To help, it isn’t always what you say. All you have to do is listen to them. That’s what they’re looking for.”
Depression doesn’t always bring on suicide, and Drost wants to correct that idea. “Mine was hate and anger,” he said. “When I speak, I tell people, if God saved me, He can save anybody. I was the worst person in the world. I took his name in vain for forty years, more than once a day.
He doesn’t like the focus to be on him. “The story of how Jesus saved my life is way more important than what we do for Bless You. Everything is about Him.” He understands, as well, that good works don’t get a person to heaven. Only faith in Jesus does that. The charity “isn’t going to save me. Only believing that Jesus died for me will take me to heaven.”
Bless You Inc. mirrors the Christmas story, in a way, Drost thinks.
Jesus was born in a temporary and “borrowed” home, just like the inhabitants of the trailers live in interim homes.
“If you look at the whole situation, it’s a Christmas story. God sent Jesus to a temporary stable they didn’t own.”
More information on Bless You, Inc. can be found online at http://www.blessyouinc.com or by calling Drost at 712.260.0414.
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