Do you know what 74 bags full of clothes looks like?
I'll show you!
In June, a large group of families made their way to Portland, ME seeking asylum, traveling by bus from San Antonio, Texas. This was the last leg of a very long journey, taking them from their home countries of Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they fled violence and oppression. They flew to Brazil and walked most of the way through Central America to the border of Texas and Mexico. The families were legally permitted by border patrol to enter the United States after declaring asylum. Then from Texas they took a bus all the way up here because they heard it was safe and there was opportunity for them.
When we learned of the asylum seeker new arrivals to the Expo temporary shelter, we connected with The City of Portland, hoping to help. Our new neighbors at the Expo only had what they could carry by hand, and most needed new clothes after the long journey. They asked if we could help. I spoke with them at length about how we could pull things off - collecting and distributing clothes to 70 families for a total of 250 people many of them small children.
So many of you reached out to the City of Portland asking how you could help. Our friends at UNUM reached out, willing to help us with the manpower and any donations needed. The plan was hatched, with UNUM collecting clothing and shoes from their employees and then bring them over to our place to distribute.
Our friends at the City running the Expo shelter asked that we sort, organize, and shop for the guests with volunteers. They gave us 70 papers representing 70 families and each paper had the adult's and children's names, ages, and sizes for clothes and shoes.
On Tuesday, July 17th, UNUM brought the loads of donations and the next day we got to work doing some personal shopping for every guest at the Expo. I have never been asked to do some personal shopping for anyone and I doubt anyone will ask me ever again.
Our volunteer crew was a motley assortment of TRC volunteers, UNUM employees, neighborhood kids, TRC staff, new friends from a local church, and City of Portland Public Health employees. At one point around 1pm we had only a few bags finished. We looked around and made some calls because we needed help! I loved seeing how much our personal shoppers cared about what clothes they gave.
Our volunteers really wanted to get the sizes right and there was some fun communication about who needed what and who had already seen that size and where to find it. I realized the Maine Baby room here at TRC had some sizes we needed so we made use of their leftovers from their distribution. I loved seeing the crowd of completed reusable shopping bags (donated by Hannaford) grow and grow until it was 3:30pm and all of a sudden we were done.
What seemed like might take us until midnight suddenly wrapped up and with all the volunteers that stepped up we finished ahead of our original schedule. None of us have any burgeoning careers as stylists but we all did our best and I can't believe how well it went. Something about fulfilling our mandate from Jesus for anyone with two shirts to share with the one who has none in a very literal way - deeply satisfying.
All 74 bags left 94 Washington Avenue and headed to 239 Park Avenue where they Expo staff distributed the correct bag to each family the next day. It’s fun to think that some old clothes made it across town to some new neighbors from across the ocean.
Thank you to everyone who donated clothes and time and to all of you for your prayers and support in making this all possible. We could not have and we did not do it alone and we are grateful for the opportunity to bring the Kingdom to Portland, ME with all of you.