Center in rural Carroll town gives unsung helping hand to Somalis

December 16, 1992|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

NEW WINDSOR -- A lot of help for Somalia starts in this unlikely place.

In early October, 124 bales of children's and infants' clothing and quilts left a cavernous warehouse just outside this rural Carroll County town, destined to clothe and warm starving Somalis.

As security in Somalia deteriorated and supplies could not be moved inland, the New Windsor Service Center received no more orders to ship relief goods to Somalia, although it continued answering the call to many other places -- 102 countries last year.

However, the staff expects new orders for supplies for Somalia any day now as American troops begin moving into the interior where aid has been blocked by armed thugs who have looted relief shipments.

Terri Meushaw, a staff executive who attended a planning meeting last week in New York, said the next shipment to Somalia will probably be medical supplies for the Interchurch Medical Assistance program, perhaps even by the end of this week.

The IMA, whose membership includes many denominations, maintains an office at the center to coordinate distribution of drugs and medical equipment worldwide for natural disasters and mission hospitals and health-care programs.

Although tiny New Windsor is not a household name in Maryland, in distressed parts of the world it is synonymous with help as packages of supplies stamped with its name arrive.

The staff of the center, owned and operated by the Church of the Brethren, has become international experts in shipping relief supplies to the scene of emergencies.

The 74,000-square-foot distribution center is ready to send everything from lye soap to hospital beds, blankets and body bags.

The non-profit center collects items from 22 organizations for shipment to the needy.

Ms. Meushaw said the center last year shipped $17.8 million in medical supplies and $3.5 million in clothing, in addition to blankets for homeless shelters in the United States.

The center once shipped a complete hydroelectric dam system, including trucks, for assembly on the ground in Zaire to provide a water supply for a village, said Dave Bubel, processing and trucking manager.

Water-purification systems, ambulances, dump trucks -- it's all part of a day's work to Mr. Bubel, who has worked at the center for 31 years and has seen demands for almost everything.

One section contains cartons of special knapsacks packed as survival kits for relief workers at disaster sites, such as the Romanian earthquake. The kits include hard hats, folding shovels, bedrolls and candles. Across the aisle are stacks of blankets, baled in black plastic wrapping, beside stacks of clothing in green moisture-resistant wrapping.

"This is the only ecumenical service center like this in the United States," Ms. Meushaw said. The Church of the Brethren once had seven such centers in the United States, she said, but New Windsor is the sole survivor. She said it is the only center of its kind in the East.

The current warehouse dates from 1965, but the center first began shipping relief supplies from New Windsor to war-torn Europe in 1944. It has contracts with 22 humanitarian agencies, including the government's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, to store and ship relief supplies.

Earlier this year, Ms. Meushaw said, the United Methodist Commission on Relief set up an office at the center to supervise a food lift of 90 containers, more than 2,000 tons worth $3.9 million, to Moscow for Russian relief.

Cartons, boxes and bales of supplies are stacked high on shelves throughout the vast warehouse. Forklifts scurry through the aisles shifting loads from one area to another.

Most of the air shipments go through Baltimore-Washington International airport or Andrews Air Force Base. Sea containers are sent from various ports.

Anyone interested in volunteering at the New Windsor Service Center may call (410) 635-8780.

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