Sometimes the best things happen without any plans or fore thought.
That is exactly what happened twenty five years ago with one phone call. With an unusual and unexpected donation of books, Operation Sharing, CAP’s gifts-in-kind program was born and turns Twenty Five this year.
When Bill Begley, former Vice President of Development, got the phone call offering him a large donation of books, he could not turn them down. He knew the good that could come from a book in the hands of a child. Not knowing the extent of the worth or the number of books, he was determined to get these books to children in Appalachia. He spent many hours looking for spaces to house what he found out to be twenty four truckloads of books. Though the value of the books totaled over four million dollars, this wasn’t his focus. Bill didn’t care if it was one book or twenty four truckloads of books, he wanted them for the impact that they could make in Appalachia. Many more hours were spent by Operation Sharing staff distributing the books to those nonprofits and individuals that needed them, including CAP’s own programs. “It wasn’t any one individual that was responsible for it,” Bill remembers, “if Mike McLaughlin hadn’t taken the initiative to call the Board of Directors and ask for money that he knew wasn’t really available, if the Board hadn’t had faith in us to agree, and if we hadn’t hired Charlie Deaton who was perfect for the position, Operation Sharing would have never grown into what it is today.”
Twenty Five years later, and over one billion dollars in goods distributed throughout the Appalachian area, we are proud to celebrate the past twenty five years and the accomplishments that we have made. But, more importantly, we take pride in all of the lives that we have impacted through this program. Not only the recipients, but the employees that have helped to make it all happen.
Charlie Deaton was the first Director of Operation Sharing and spent many hours helping to grow the program. Charlie knew everyone and everyone knew him, thus, he was perfect for the job. He sought out donations and the word spread. As time passed, corporations began to seek out Charlie, to offer their excess materials to help Operation Sharing. In talking to Charlie, he reminisced about the twenty four truckloads of books that came to CAP and the great impact those books had on the children of the area. “Books allow these kids to see the world, a world that they may never get the chance to see, but now are able by reading the words and seeing the pictures.”
Product began to flow steadily from corporations and other nonprofits. Contacts were made from California to New York. “Once Operation Sharing became recognized nationally with other charities, partnerships took shape and a better system was formed to get goods to the people who really needed help and we were able to do so quickly. That’s what Operation Sharing is all about, being that funnel between business’ surplus goods and the people who need them,” says former CAP President, Mike McLaughlin.
Through approximately 2000 nonprofits including churches, schools, local governments, homeless shelters, nursing homes, fire departments, police departments, community outreach centers, rescue departments and other charities, CAP was able to distribute product to the ones that needed it most.
Once Operation Sharing gives product to organizations, they distribute the goods to individuals with the most needs in their communities. Programs include helping families at Christmas, offering clothing and school supplies during Back to School season, and relief supplies during disasters.
Jeff Burchett, the current Director of Operation Sharing, even dresses up as Santa Claus to greet children and spread holiday cheer during the Christmas season. He distributes gifts to children that would otherwise go without. Jeff said, “Just to see the smiles on the kid’s faces when they get a toy or a present, to me, that’s the best part of it, but really working at Operation Sharing is like being Santa Claus 365 days a year, always helping people and giving them what they need.”
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, a caravan including Bill Mills, our President at the time, some full-time employees, volunteers and two tractor trailers made their way down to Ocean Springs, Mississippi to offer support during a devastating time. In all, CAP’s presence was felt from August until the end of December, in which time a total of eighteen tractor trailers filled with goods and relief items were sent and distributed in a “drive thru fashion,” according to Johnny Thompson, a former Operation Sharing employee. Cars would pull up to Operation Sharing volunteers, get their vehicles packed full with relief items and drive off with some hope and encouragement amidst a destructed, desolate scene.
Not only during Katrina, but each and every day, “the resourcefulness of the people who got these gifts could amaze you,” says Johnny. When in need, any little bit helps so whatever the contribution, the item can be used traditionally or creatively to make a difference. Mike McLaughlin agreed, “No matter what we had, Charlie would find a way to get it to someone who could really use it.” Donations include food, drinks, clothing, formal wear, medical supplies, building material such as shingles, tiles, bathtubs, commodes, sinks, faucets, light fixtures, household items, computers, furniture, books, office supplies, cleaning supplies, hygiene items, bed pans, and even a live bull. No matter the item, every little bit helps.
“The motto is act quickly, make it happen and the only thing that ever holds Operation Sharing back is money,” says Johnny Thompson. With such a great first twenty five years, we look forward to witnessing the greatness that’s yet to come. “In the future, I look for Operation Sharing to level out, fine tune their instruments, and get items that do the most good and focus on those things,” stated Mike McLaughlin. We commemorate a great quarter century of help and hope delivered to those in need in Appalachia, and wait expectantly for the next.
If you were to travel to any of the communities in the most distressed areas of the Appalachian Mountains, most all of the communities will have been touched by the long arms of Operation Sharing. There are many stories about the help and the lives that have been impacted.
We are proud and thankful that twenty five years later, we are still growing. We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to those of you that have given so freely to our program. We would like to also thank the many companies and nonprofits that have been there to provide the products that helped us make this all possible.
We pray that you will continue to support our efforts for the next twenty five years.
Thank you and God bless you.