Service groups unite for the greater good

Brethren Service Center provides aid worldwide from New Windsor site


Inside a large green warehouse on New Windsor's Main Street, basic supplies are collected from congregations and communities around the country.

Volunteers and workers pack the items, including washcloths, stuffed animals, crayons and toothpaste, into kits that will be shipped to disaster-stricken areas worldwide.

Cardboard boxes filled with the kits are stacked to the ceiling on tiers of shelves inside the 72,000-square-foot building, ready to be sent wherever they are needed.

For people who are warm, safe and dry, the items may not seem like a lot, but to people who have nothing, the kits are priceless, said Kathleen Campanella, manager of communications and hospitality at the Brethren Service Center.

The service center is made up of six organizations that help people in need worldwide, including Emergency Response/Service Ministries, which operates the warehouse.

Located on a 26-acre site, the service center has been operated by the Church of the Brethren for more than 50 years.

In addition to providing disaster relief, the organizations also work in the areas of development, social justice, peace education and hospitality.

It is the only place of its kind operated by the Church of the Brethren, and it is vital, said Roy Winter, executive director.

"It's a place that a variety of ecumenical organizations and churches can come together and really maximize our resources cooperatively," Winter said. "For example, we can have one warehouse and our dollars go so much further and we can do so much more ministry."

Winter said that disaster response is provided in three ways: by assisting with child care, rebuilding communities and distributing supplies.

In 2005, the warehouse made 1,948 shipments on behalf of relief agencies to 26 states and 43 countries, according to Winter. The shipments were valued at about $24 million.

Destinations for the goods included countries in the Middle East and countries in Asia after the tsunami. Fifty-nine of the shipments were sent in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Several schools and groups in Carroll County sponsored drives to collect supplies for the center during the natural disasters.

The part of the program that rebuilds homes is also actively working to address the long-term needs of Gulf Coast communities after the hurricanes, Winter said.

The work of the Brethren Service Center is made possible with the help of 50 to 60 volunteers who are at the center daily, Campanella said.

It is also done through partnerships with other organizations, such as Church World Service, which designates the destination of the baby kits, kid kits, health kits and school kits.

The service center accepts the donations, which are stored in the warehouse until it is decided where they will be sent, Campanella said.

Then items are usually trucked to ports in Baltimore or New York and shipped by sea. But if supplies are needed right away, they are sent by air.

The Brethren Service Center was founded in 1944 to ship materials to war-torn Europe, Campanella said.

The center was previously a college campus; the gymnasium was used to pack the supplies that were being sent. Over the years, other organizations joined the service center.

Now, the seven buildings on the site are home to organizations such as On Earth Peace Assembly, which works to teach peace, reconciliation and violence reduction.

The New Windsor Conference Center provides overnight accommodations and dining facilities to the public.

Campanella said the 72 available rooms are typically used by church groups, nonprofit organizations and training groups.

Tucked away on the back side of the Brethren Center buildings is A Greater Gift, a shop that imports and sells products made by groups in developing countries as part of the SERRV International program.

A Greater Gift did about $8.5 million in sales last year through purchases made online and in the store, said Deanna Shumaker, the shop's manager.

"Once people know we are here, we usually see them again," she said.

The shop features crafts, jewelry, home decor and clothing from all over the world. Items include wool rugs from Nepal, onyx carvings from Pakistan, handmade lace from India and a marimba from Ecuador.

When artisans are identified as having products that can be sold, the organization works with them on marketing and product development. Artisan industries also have to meet requirements such as having environmental sustainability and not having children doing the labor.

"It's all about social justice and giving people a chance to earn a fair wage for their work," Shumaker said.

Also located within the service center is the Church of the Brethren's Mid-Atlantic District office and administrative offices for Interchurch Medical Assistance Inc., an organization that helps faith-based health facilities overseas to provide aid to people living in poverty.

The Brethren Service Center is at 500 Main St. in New Windsor. The gift shop is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, visit

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