Over the low rumble of the truck engine, Wesley Howard explains some of the keys to piloting a tractor-trailer. “You always have to be watching. And not just watching the cars right around you, but the cars way off in the distance. You have to be able to anticipate and plan for anything that might happen down the road.”
"When you see the need,
For Howard, driving a truck for CAP’s Operation Sharing Program is second nature. Much of his life has been spent on the road, running his own trucks for more than 20 years before coming to CAP in 2010. Like all CAP employees, Howard was drawn to the organization because of the aid and resources it provides for people and communities in need. “I enjoy the work we do and the reason we do it.”
Howard’s drive from Corbin, Ky. to Bath County is a frequent one; it’s a route he travels every few weeks. The trailer is completely packed with household essentials, non-perishable food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and other odds and ends – all gifts from corporate partners who have generously donated their excess goods to the people of Appalachia.
Volunteers at Abundance of Rain Ministries sort through a shipment from Operation Sharing.
In the past year, corporate gifts-in-kind to CAP were valued at more than $73 million. More impressive than the financial significance of these gifts is the impact they were able to make on the region. Operation Sharing distributed these goods to more than 1,300 partner organizations in all 13 Appalachian states, Missouri, and Arkansas, who in turn dispensed these essential items to more than 1.5 million individuals. Operation Sharing drivers like Howard play a vital role in this process.
On this cool October morning, Howard’s destination is Abundance of Rain Ministries in Salt Lick, Ky., one of the many partner organizations ensuring that trailer-loads of essential goods make it into the hands of the people with the greatest need. As he skillfully maneuvers his rig into position on the gravel lot next to a small warehouse, a team of Abundance of Rain volunteers assembles at the mouth of the loading dock. The moment the trailer doors swing open and the loading ramp is secured, the team springs into action with their small forklift. Each pallet is inventoried and unloaded into its designated section in the warehouse – organization is essential, because these goods will soon be moved again to the distribution headquarters a half mile down the road.
The gentleman operating the forklift while calling out directions to the other volunteers is Pastor Wayne Gifford, founder of this community ministry. Abundance of Rain Ministries is a massive operation serving hundreds of individuals and families in Bath County (as well as some surrounding counties), but it all started in 2008 when Gifford sought to meet the needs of one individual. “There was an elderly woman whom, I found out, had resorted to eating cat food because she had to choose between paying her electric bill or buying groceries. She chose her electric bill and used what was left to purchase the only food she could afford. We started a soup bean drive to try and help her out,” details Gifford.
This was a transformative moment for Gifford and his congregation. Through a series of serendipitous events, including a truck of food that was offered by a stranger, the operation soon took off in earnest. Gifford continues, “When you see the need, you have to act. That moment is when I really saw for myself the poverty of the area. I have found that in this community, because of the high levels of poverty, you don’t throw away anything of potential value and you don’t turn down any donated item – someone will eventually need it and use it.”
Gifford expresses both the extreme need and resourcefulness of the people with whom his ministry works, explaining, “I’ve seen people take the tiles we’ve offered them and they will lay it on the ground and glue it to cover up holes in the floor. They’ll take the insulation that CAP gives, range insulation – they’ll take that and pile that into their attics, they’ll use it to stuff into the holes in their walls.”
The network of nonprofits established through partnership with Operation Sharing relies on the generosity of CAP's supporters.
A ministry on the scale of Abundance of Rain could not exist without CAP’s Operation Sharing Program. Howard explains “Even though the goods are donated by corporate partners, the cost to ship and deliver the donations makes it prohibitive for most individual nonprofits, particularly in Appalachia, to receive them. Operation Sharing, through the resources of CAP’s donors, is able to incur these freight costs and has the facilities, infrastructure, and equipment to transport these goods directly to the smaller organizations.”
The network of nonprofits established through partnership with Operation Sharing relies on the generosity of CAP’s supporters. And CAP needs community organizations like Abundance of Rain to distribute the vast amounts of donated goods into the hands of children, their families, and the elderly throughout the Appalachian region.
The next morning, after having transferred their truckload of food, supplies, toiletries, and assorted other items to their distribution compound, the Abundance of Rain volunteers prepare for their weekly community offering. More than an hour before the slated start time, the parking lot is already teeming with carloads of families and individuals. The multi-generational pool of volunteers has swelled to more than 20 people, all working intently at various tasks throughout the compound to sort, prep, and stage the donated goods for swift distribution.
One-by-one, after having registered and signed in, the cars are directed into a line that snakes and stretches around the main building and spans the length of the parking lot. It is obvious that this procedure has been meticulously orchestrated and routinely practiced over the course of Abundance of Rain’s existence. Each car pulls through multiple stations at the back of the building, where volunteers race to load their trunks, backseats, and truck beds with food items, household necessities, toiletries, and cleaning supplies.
Assisting Gifford with the supervision of this program is Jessica Humphries, who is busy coordinating the volunteers’ efforts while intermittently leaning through car windows to chat with the drivers. According to Humphries, “The cars here represent 300 to 400 people, because a lot of them share rides to get here and then take the food and supplies back to their families. These are people who work everyday but can’t afford the necessities. And some people have just fallen through the cracks and are down on their luck, you know? So this partnership with CAP is a very good thing.”
Pastor Wayne Gifford, founder of Abundance of Rain Ministries, unloads a shipment from Operation Sharing
Essential goods distribution at Abundance of Rain Ministries
In the midst of the bustle, Gifford muses, “This has affected my preaching for the simple fact that, yes, we can preach about it, but there are people, our neighbors, in extreme need. So we’ve got to be the hands and the feet of Christ. Not everyone wants to be the hands and the feet, because it’s not easy work. We decided that this is important.”
The line of cars is steady and remains so until late in the day when the distribution ends. There are still some items left in surplus to be distributed the next week, but the bulk of their wares have been depleted. They will make due with their remaining stock of commodities but will eagerly await the return of Howard and his replenished tractor-trailer. Today, like CAP’s other two Operation Sharing drivers, he is already hundreds of miles down road to another town in need, delivering his trailer of hope to another organization earnestly anticipating his arrival.