“It’s been a blessing,” reflected Ray Dean on the 20-plus-year relationship between God’s Temple Outreach in Barbourville, Ky. and Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP) Operation Sharing. “Through their support and the goods they’ve provided our ministry, literally thousands of people in need in our community have been blessed. It’s made such a significant difference in all of our lives.”
Dean’s ministry is one of more than 1,400 partner organizations throughout all 13 Appalachian states, Missouri, and Arkansas who benefit from the donated goods distributed by Operation Sharing. Organizations on the small scale of God’s Temple could not exist without CAP’s Operation Sharing Program. Even though the goods are donated by corporate partners, the cost to ship and deliver the donations is prohibitive for most smaller nonprofits, particularly in Appalachia. Because of the generosity of CAP donors Operation Sharing is able to incur these freight costs and has the facilities, infrastructure, and equipment to transport these goods directly to partner organizations.
For example, if a corporation wanted to donate 500 chairs, it would be difficult for a small nonprofit to be able to absorb the costs associated with delivery and storage. In addition, most nonprofits wouldn’t be able to use 500 chairs. Through Operation Sharing, those 500 chairs are distributed in more manageable numbers to several organizations.
The scope of what Operation Sharing is able to achieve is due entirely to the generosity of corporations, businesses, and large-scale donors. CAP, in turn, relies on or¬ganizations like Dean’s to distribute the vast amounts of donated goods to children, their families, and the elderly throughout the Appalachian Region. For more than 30 years, this model of mutually beneficial generosity and support has delivered hope to millions of people in need.
“The first donation was all about books,” explained Jeff Burchett, long-time director of Operation Sharing. “Now we have a wide variety of donations – food products, drinks, clothing, shoes, furniture, building supplies, and paper products. From year to year, we never know what we’re going to get, but we find a way to coordinate it all for the organizations with whom we work.”
The books to which Burchett refers are the 29 truckloads of books donated to CAP in 1986. At that time Vice President of Development Bill Begley, determined to find a location to house, manage, and distribute that donation, established the initial iteration of what would become known as Operation Sharing. Those first truckloads of books were eventually distributed to communities, families, and individuals in greatest need, and the trucks haven’t stopped running since.
That first load of books was valued at $4 million and now, 33 years later, Operation Sharing has received and distributed over $1.8 billion worth of donated goods throughout Appalachia. Considering numbers like this, one might expect the warehouse to feel sterile, but the reality is quite the contrary. This work is personal and spiritually fulfilling for the volunteers and employees who are driven by CAP’s mission to build hope, transform lives, and share Christ’s love through service in Appalachia.
“When you have somebody that is so moved that they can’t talk because they are breaking down crying, and you’re crying, and they ask if they can hug you before they leave – that impacts you,” explained Danny Lewis, who works in the warehouse. “I get to see that sort of thing daily.”
A relatively new partner organization, Hopewell Baptist Church in Columbus, Miss., is utilizing donated goods from Operation Sharing to impact a wide range of local ministries, churches, prisons, and agencies in their area. Joyce Dailey, an organizer at Hopewell, receives deliveries from Operation Sharing and then coordinates the distribution of commodities like toiletries, personal items, food, diapers, and even some building supplies and furniture. “I am glad that we have the opportunity and capacity to receive things that can be used by the churches for people reaching out for help,” Dailey said. “We try to spread the love as far as we possibly can.”
Just as in 1986, books remain a popular item in any Operation Sharing delivery. “We received a shipment of books, so I went to the local elementary school and set up a sort of free book fair,” Dailey added. “The children seemed to have enjoyed that to the highest degree. Letters of appreciation began to roll in from the teachers, parents, and some of the children, and they were all blown away by the generosity of the donation.”
The day-to-day procedures at Operation Sharing have been refined to create an efficient, multifaceted system of distribution. Throughout any given day, representatives from nearby partner organizations drive into the warehouse, load up their trucks and SUVs with donated supplies and essential items that suit the needs of their community, and are back on the road in 20 minutes. The majority of goods, however, are loaded onto a fleet of tractor trailers and driven directly to schools, churches, prison ministries, and a host of other charitable groups throughout the Appalachian Region and the Ozarks.
CAP’s two main warehouses in Corbin and Paintsville, Ky., along with an affiliate warehouse in Oneida, Tenn., maintain high levels of inventory and turn over year-round. Every August, at the end of the nonprofit fiscal year, all goods remaining from the previous 12 months are distributed and both of CAP’s Kentucky warehouses are emptied. In preparation for the coming holiday season, the space is cleaned and made ready to receive new donations and will be fully restocked by the end of September.
The spirit of compassion that envelopes the entire enterprise that is Operation Sharing, from corporate donors and organizational partners to truck drivers and warehouse staff, imbues a value on basic goods that cannot be measured in dollars. Somewhere in the process, these donated items become something more than just commodities; they are agents of change. And as long as Operation Sharing exists, its mission will always be to deliver hope.
“It’s so inspiring because Operation Sharing recipient organizations have a heart for what they do,” Lewis remarked. “When you see them get excited about what we are giving them and they tell you about a particular family, how many people there are in the house that are sleeping on the floor, without an income or food – you know that you’re about to make a difference in someone’s life.”