The desperate airlift out of Kabul, Afghanistan, had barely kicked into gear in August 2021 when a call went out to the state of Wisconsin’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) group. The sudden collapse of the Afghan government meant there was an urgent need for clothing to help the displaced Afghans who were arriving in the U.S. with only the clothes they were wearing.
Wisconsin Adventist Community Services (ACS) director Alice Garrett learned that 12,600 migrants were arriving at Fort McCoy, an army base some 170 miles (270 kilometers) from Milwaukee. In this location, the refugees would be processed before most were dispersed to other states.
Garrett emailed the Wisconsin pastors and Seventh-day Adventist churches asking for new clothes for men, women, and children. A decision was made to collect necessities such as underwear, socks, and other new clothing by September 9, which was very short notice.
“The response was overwhelming,” Garrett said. “Pastors and members responded, and we delivered 95 boxes with an estimate of 2,000 items. What a blessing!”
Since the need for clothes remained high after the first effort, Garrett decided to request another clothing drive, this time for a longer period. On September 10, she dashed off another email to pastors, ACS leaders, and certified volunteers to start another collection, this time focusing on winter clothing, such as jackets, boots, and warm sweatshirts. The plan was to close the drive on September 27 and deliver on September 30.
Once again, a crush of items came in. Volunteers sorted about 1,300 items and packaged the goods in 94 boxes labeled with the contents. This brought the total to 189 boxes and 3,300 items collected in just one month.
Garrett noted, “When we look at the vast number of 12,500 people, we ask, ‘How can we possibly even make a dent in this vast endeavor? Our 189 boxes were just a drop in the bucket.’ But when we take the attitude that each one of us will reach one, the job was finished in a month! We serve a big God!”
During this period, more than US$10,000 in monetary donations was received from Wisconsin church members, as well as from individuals in Michigan and Minnesota. “Every penny will go to help these people,” Garrett said. “We have and are continuing to purchase what is the immediate need, and that includes a lot of winter coats, underwear, toddlers' clothes, and infant formula.”
Garrett and the other ACS volunteers have drawn the attention of others.
“As we finished unloading the trailer at the armory,” Garrett said, “the volunteers [from another organization] came over to us and said, ‘Thank you for your load. It is all sorted and labeled, and we can send it on to Fort McCoy right away.’”
The North American Division (NAD) has noticed the smooth operation in Wisconsin. Derrick Lea, NAD ACS director, said that Garrett and her team continue to lead ACS efforts in this area. “It’s the relationships that have been developed previously that enable us to be engaged within our community when crisis events take place,” Lea said. “I rely on Alice and her team of dedicated team members to rally our church members to respond when calls for help go out. It’s a privilege to work with those willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their local communities.”
As of September 29, more than 300,000 clothing items had been processed at the armory, with a value of about US$2.8 million. No more clothing will be collected as Fort McCoy is transitioning into resettlement and relocating the refugees.