by Lyn Knowles
In early spring, the UMCOR West depot in Salt Lake City sent out a request for churches to send mission teams to work at the depot. First UMC of Riverside sent 7 volunteers to help. The trip took place during the week of July 15, 2019, a very hot week that was ultimately selected because of the availability of volunteer space at the depot and coordination of the calendars of the volunteers.
The depot can handle a certain number of volunteers at one time. During our visit, our 7 volunteers joined a dozen or so volunteers from Tustin UMC.
Although it was hot, the work space in the depot was cooled by industrial sized fans, with an air conditioned break and lunch room available. Large tables were set up in the work area and the teams from both churches worked around those tables to build kits. During our stay, we boxed bags of toothpaste, boxed bags of hygiene kits, boxed (and created) bags of school supplies, and on one memorable day, were loaned to the Mormon thrift store and got a tour of the Latter Day Saints Salt Lake City Welfare Square.
Our first day, the teams took tubes of toothpaste from their packages and bagged them 8 tubes to a clear plastic baggie. We sealed the baggies and placed the baggies one on top of each other in huge boxes. When the boxes were filled, we taped it up and began filling a new box. We filled dozens and dozens of boxes. Eventually the boxes were wheeled away to an adjacent area of the warehouse.
On the second day, we learned why we had put those tubes of toothpaste together. Previously packed boxes of hygiene kits were opened and the baggies of toothpaste were placed on top. There were 24 hygiene kits to a box, and three baggies holding 8 toothpaste tubes each were laid on top of the hygiene kits, before sealing the entire kit. They did not always fit. Sometimes we had to pull out the hygiene kits and re-wrap them. They need to be tight, with all the air squeezed out of them.
I have previously purchased supplies to build the UMCOR hygiene kits. There is a size range for the hand towels. I have always tried to purchase towels towards the top of the size range, figuring the recipients would get a little larger, better towel. Never again. I am buying in the smaller part of the size range, because those little bit larger towels take up more room in the boxes and make it harder to make everything fit. I now also know that I need to squeeze every last bit of air from the bag before sealing it.
The boxes containing the 24 hygiene kits and the 3 bags of toothpaste were sealed, marked and placed in larger boxes that would be later placed on the warehouse shelves. As each larger box was finished, the workers would gather around it to say the “pallet prayer.” We said the “pallet prayer” for finished school kits, also. During breaks a young local volunteer named Steven would play his guitar and sing for us.
At the very end of the week, Pastor Brian (who is the pastor on special assignment in charge of the depot) led a communion service.
Our Cal-Pac Conference continues to be active in sending disaster response teams to locations in need around the country.
If you have church members who would like to serve on a mission team but are not sure about their ability to deal with a disaster situation, this is a great introduction. Housing choices are as varied as the floor of a church to a retreat center that offers beds, pillows, and a fully stocked kitchen. Housing information as well as other pertinent facts are listed in the information packet available online.