Orphan Grain Train provides food, supplies and help for those in need worldwide | TSLN.com

Orphan Grain Train provides food, supplies and help for those in need worldwide

A not-for-profit organization in Norfolk, Neb. takes clothing, bedding, towels, medical and school equipment, and food, and provides it to those less fortunate around the globe.

For the past 25 years, Orphan Grain Train has shipped hundreds of thousands of pounds of goods and food to places of poverty and calamity, from Latvia, Russia, to El Paso, Texas, to the fire-ravaged plains of Oklahoma and Kansas.

With 12 full-time employees, OGT relies heavily on volunteers to gather goods, sort through them, and load the containers that are used to either ship the goods by boat overseas, or the semi-trailers that transport goods throughout the U.S.

The husband-wife team of Bob and Beth Stark has been volunteering their time since the late 1990s.

Former farmers northeast of Hastings, Neb., the couple, now in their seventies, made a trip to El Paso and saw the poverty of the people across the border.

They were motivated to help, and since then, have made two or three trips a year with goods. Beth, who still works in the dairy management field, served as OGT's treasurer from 2008 till this past October, and the couple spends several days each week, visiting pick-up locations in southeast Nebraska, picking up goods and transporting them to the Grand Island warehouse, where volunteers come in daily to sort.

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Everything is sorted and boxed; clothing is divided by women's, men's, and children's, by tops and bottoms, and by light (for summer) and heavy (for winter). Nearly everything is accepted: bedding, towels, kitchen goods (unbreakable; no glass or appliances), shoes (high-heel shoes are highly sought after in Mexico and Puerto Rico), toys and bikes. Clothing must be clean with no stains; bikes are sent to the correctional facility in Norton, Kansas, where inmates fix them so they work.

Material is accepted, and Beth sorts off the big pieces to be used for quilts, which are made by church ladies.

OGT builds relationships with recipients, who must apply to receive goods, be able to work with customs for the loads going overseas, have storage (like a warehouse), and must be able to distribute the goods.

OGT has worked with a variety of organizations and individuals, like Kids International Ministries in the Philippines, Compassion International in Moldova, orphanages in Latvia, Native American reservations in the U.S., and more.

Medical and school equipment is also donated, including equipment for people with handicaps. For those in poverty, having the proper size of wheelchair can make the difference between mobility and never leaving the house.

OGT also ships food worldwide. They work with Mercy Meals and Kids Against Hunger, providing the shipping for the food packets they assemble. Last year, OGT shipped 4.4 million meals.

Mercy Meals' transportation logistics and fees are handled by OGT, and OGT ships all of the meals put together by Mercy Meals. A bag contains one cup of soy flakes, one cup of white rice, one tablespoon of chicken flavoring with twenty vitamins and minerals, and one tablespoon of six dried vegetables. A bag can feed six people for 72 cents, and can, if necessary, sustain them for two to three days. Volunteers pack the meals at the various locations; donations pay for the food items. In 2016, the Norfolk location packed 642,293 meals and had 3,662 volunteers.

A farmer near Neligh, Nebraska, has donated edible beans to OGT for the past five years.

Brett Morrison, president and owner of Nebraska Bean, Inc., chooses to donate beans to OGT out of a deep respect for its founder, the late Clayton Andrews, who was owner of Andrews Van Lines and instrumental in OGT's development, and because "the entire organization does very good work." The beans are shipped in 50 lb. bags to Haiti and Liberia, where they are fed to school students. According to Suzanne Leffers, OGT's director of public relations, school attendance increases when beans are served, because "kids are getting a meal."

Most Americans don't realize how good life is in this country, Leffers said. "We're fortunate to have three meals a day, and a bed to sleep in, and heat," she said. "Even having running water and clean drinking water."

OGT depends on donations to pay for shipping the food and goods, and the Starks help with fundraising. Their "Wisconsin fish boils" held at area churches in Nebraska, are famous for boiled fish and potatoes and pearl onions. Twenty-five fish boils were held this year; the Starks put on eleven of them. Beth buys the fish on sale and the church usually provides the paper products and assistance in serving.

Donations also are accepted, and OGT is proud of its four-star ranking with Charity Navigator, a program that rates how efficiently a charity uses its support. Out of every dollar, only three cents goes towards administrative and marketing costs at OGT.

OGT also helps with calamities within the U.S. When fires swept through Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, OGT responded with pasture fencing and hay, accepting semi-loads of donated hay and locating truckers to haul it south. OGT has sent four semi-loads of drywall to Houston to help with the rebuilding process there after Hurricane Harvey.

OGT's assistance isn't always financial, food, or material. They have "volunteer villages" – 40-foot containers transformed into bedroom units, laundry units, kitchens or office units. They are set up in disaster areas, providing a place for volunteers to sleep, eat and wash clothing as they rebuild. Two of OGT's volunteer village bedroom units are in Houston at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, which provides the meals and showers for the volunteers. Several of the volunteer village units were utilized in New Orleans for five years after Hurricane Katrina caused widespread destruction. When a tornado destroyed a large part of Pilger, Neb. in 2014, OGT was there to provide financial help, storage units for people's things when their houses were destroyed, and a temporary church to replace one that had been destroyed.

An army of volunteers provide the manpower at OGT. Last year, 97,626 volunteer hours were recorded; since OGT began in 1992, over 3.5 million hours have been volunteered.

Even with some health problems, Bob and Beth Stark don't plan on quitting. "I could retire," Beth said, "but what does the Bible say? When you do unto others, you do it unto me. We do this because people need it, and it's one way of telling people about Christ."

Leffers agrees.

"We help feed and clothes those in need," she said. "These are God's children. People ask, 'why are you helping me?' It's in the name of Jesus that we do it."

Beth Stark tells the story of children in orphanages in Latvia who did not sleep at night, worrying if they would have a meal the next day. OGT provided food for the children, and after a week of knowing there would be food the next morning, the kids were able to sleep.

"When you hear those kinds of things, it makes you want to do it. Christ tells us to take care of people."

More information on OGT can be found at http://www.ogt.org. F