Man of the cloth helps dress the world's needy

Tons of clothing are shipped from a Pylesville church

July 03, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When the Rev. John Borgal sent his first shipment of clothes to needy residents of Mozambique in 1992, he had no idea that he was starting something big. "Not in my wildest dreams," he said.

Last year, Borgal shipped 20 container-loads of supplies to people around the world, from tsunami victims in Sri Lanka to AIDS orphans in Zambia. "Since I've been doing this, we've probably shipped into 22 or 23 different countries," he said.

The goods are collected from Church of the Nazarene locations around the United States and stored in a warehouse that Borgal manages at Fawn Grove Church of the Nazarene in tiny Pylesville.

"Every year it keeps increasing," says Borgal, who was pastor at Fawn Grove in the 1970s. "It's been rather exciting."

Recently Borgal, whose title is gifts-in-kind coordinator of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Inc. (NCMI), received a $10,000 Passion Award from the Servant Christian Community Foundation, based in Kansas City, Mo.

Bob Prescott, president of NCMI, the nonprofit organization that owns the warehouse, said Borgal's work has allowed the Church of the Nazarene to extend its reach in helping people around the world.

Borgal started sending supplies in 1992 on a much smaller scale, collecting goods from the 90 or so Church of the Nazarene locations within the Mid-Atlantic. "I had sensed a lot of people wanted to be more involved hands-on," he said.

For his first effort, he decided to send clothing to Mozambique. "They had just ended 16 years of civil war and the country was in very tough shape," he said. "It's still one of the poorest countries in the world, but it's improving."

His job seemed easy enough. He alerted the other churches that he needed donations. When he received the items, he packed them in banana boxes that he had collected from local grocery stores. He collected enough clothing to fill 1,230 boxes -- an entire shipping container.

Each year, he sent a few more containers of goods, but the operation was still on a small scale. Materials were stashed in school classrooms and any other available nooks and corners before they were sent.

By 1999, Borgal's work has come to the attention of NCMI, based in Kansas City. The ministry had been renting a warehouse in Kansas City, but it persuaded the 110-member Fawn Grove church to build a warehouse that would serve as a central location for collecting and shipping supplies. Borgal was hired full time by NCMI.

The 45-by-105-foot warehouse, the Church of the Nazarene's only official shipping warehouse, was built in 2000 for about $90,000.

Since then, the Church of the Nazarene has been able to greatly expand its ability to send goods to other countries, Prescott said. "Now that we have a place to handle it, we've gotten more aggressive on the promotion," he said.

About 5,000 churches, mostly on the East Coast but sometimes from as far as Alaska, send goods to the Pylesville warehouse, Borgal said. "An individual church can't send them as cheap as we can because we send them by ocean freight container," he said.

However, the cost of shipping to Maryland from the West is so high that NCMI is hoping to establish a warehouse on the West Coast, Prescott said.

The goods are sent to church missionaries, who work in 149 countries, Borgal said. The missionaries distribute the goods to anyone in need, not just church members, he said.

Shortly after the warehouse was established, NCMI began creating Crisis Care Kits, filled with $18 worth of personal care items, including soup, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste. Each one also has a small stuffed animal, Prescott added. "If they are going to places of crisis, the little animal can be a comfort to somebody," he said.

This year, NCMI has introduced the School Pal Pak, a plastic zip bag filled with $8 worth of colored pencils, erasers, notebooks and other school supplies, designed to be shared by two students.

Borgal also sends a couple of hundred computers a year, he said. Borgal plans to hold the job as long as he can. "I could retire," he said. "I'm 65. But I don't want to. I feel very much that this is a part of the calling God has given me to do."

As the scope of the effort has grown, Borgal has honed his collection and packing skills. And he's acutely aware of local customs. "In some countries, the ladies can't wear slacks," he said. "In some countries, they can't wear shorts."

He still collects banana boxes from grocery and convenience stores, because they're free and they're sturdy, but now he has an army of volunteers who help clean and mend clothing before sorting and packing it. With the help of volunteers, he can pack a shipping container in less than 90 minutes.

One such volunteer is Deborah Grace of New Park, Pa., who has been a member of the church for three years. "I go there and help load the banana boxes and go there and help pack clothing once a week, if I can," she said.

"I'm just kind of impressed by the fact that his heart goes out to people all over the world," she added. "It kind of prompted me to join because I just thought this church was really doing something, making a difference in this world."

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