Three large box trucks left Frankfurt loaded with 1,061 “miracles by the bagful” for six different refugee camps in Germany on April 22. It was the culmination of a month-long “welcome kit” project organized by three Relief Society sisters in the Frankfurt 1st Ward.
Melina Grahovac and Lisa Koy have callings to serve the young mothers in their ward; they often trade clothing and toys with ward members and acquaintances in their children’s play group at the local kindergarten. When they collect more than they need, they donate the extra items to local charities and social welfare organizations.
Sister Rebecca Stay, a senior humanitarian missionary assigned to help refugees in Europe, approached Sister Grahovac and Sister Koy one Sunday in March and inquired about clothing for refugee children.
They, along with Nerea Plana-Garcia, 1st counselor in the Frankfurt 1st Ward Relief Society presidency, went right to work making “welcome kits” for refugees.
“We spoke with our friends and contacts at kindergartens and other groups where we had swapped clothing and toys and asked them if they would like to help,” Sister Grahovac said. Due to upcoming German holidays in May and June, they set a date for April 20 to complete their project.
They needed to find donations, donors, volunteers and refugee camps where their generosity would be accepted. They had to gather and sort the donations, bag them all up for delivery and then find a way to get the items there.
Sister Koy explained that they originally set a goal of delivering 500 welcome kits.
“Once Melina [Grahovac] had contacted the different camps, we discovered that we would need more,” she said. “We were overwhelmed when we learned there were 927 [babies and children] in the six camps.”
The women felt that they couldn’t tell one or two of the camps they wouldn’t get any bags. In the end, they made 1,061 in total, “just to make sure that each and every single child up to 12 years of age in those camps would get a bag,” Sister Koy said.
The German sisters began their project more than a week before the Church announced the “I Was A Stranger” campaign at the General Women’s Session on March 29. Many involved in the drive recognized the same source of inspiration: the hand of the Lord. Time after time when the sisters called different groups or organizations for help or donations, if they didn’t get a positive reaction at first, they would get a call back later. Several private groups and local companies had a change of heart, especially when they discovered the project was for refugee children.
Sister Koy printed and distributed a flyer in both German and English, asking for toys, children’s clothes, baby carriers, backpacks and duffel bags to be sent to the European Area headquarters building. By the time they started sorting, the basement overflowed with donations.
On the morning of April 20, the stage and the cultural hall in the adjoining stake center were filled with clothing and toys and other donations — some old, some new.
Baby bags held a body suit, a one-piecer, a hat, a toy, wipes and diapers, a blanket and a towel. The kids’ bags included underwear and socks (new), a shirt, a sweater, a pair of shorts or pants, a towel, a toy and pencils, a book and a notebook.
During the sorting process, donations were sized and organized into boxes in assembly lines on banquet tables, then stacked on the pews in the chapel where they could be gathered by the “picker-packers” and placed in bags. For two days, the inventory was laid out by size and kind so that by 7 o’clock on Thursday night, the bags would be ready for assembly. Thanks to a huge turnout on Thursday, everything was bagged in two hours. Right on schedule, the three trucks were packed full and departed for the six refugee camps early Friday morning.
Sister Stay reflected on the number of miracles — large and small — they experienced in the last month.
“We heard about this group of ‘International Women’ in Bad Homburg — Americans and other transplants — who held an annual bake sale and clothing drive,” Sister Stay said. “They were happy to donate several boxes of clothing, but then when we explained it was for refugees, they opened the tailgates on their cars and said, ‘You can have everything else we have left.’ ”
A woman named Ria saw their Facebook post, called and said she had some donations. “She explained that she had been collecting articles on her own for refugees for some time,” Sister Stay explained. “In fact, she had a whole storage shed full, including more than 1,000 blankets from Lufthansa. Now every bag will include a Lufthansa blanket.
“She also said, ‘I have lots of other boxes, but I have no idea what’s in them. If you can send someone out to take an inventory of what’s in them, you can have all of the children’s clothing,’ ” Sister Stay said. Senior missionaries spent hours sorting the clothing in those boxes and ultimately received 50 to 60 boxes of donated clothes from Ria.
On the first day of sorting, Ria and her husband came into the stake center to meet the volunteers. Sister Stay said that “they had never met people like Mormons before — they just love us. They even brought two more carloads of donations with them this morning.”
Elder Mitchel Bausman and Sister Yvonne Bausman, who provide technological support for stakes and districts in the Europe Area, were assigned to pick up and deliver donations that came pouring in, using whatever large vehicle they could get their hands on.
Some contributors jumped in without hesitation.A local technology company, Data Dimensions, acquired rental trucks and not only provided them free of charge but also paid for the fuel and provided the drivers.
The response reminded Sister Stay of when Moses and the children of Israel were commanded to build a sanctuary in the wilderness.
“And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun,” until, “the people [did] bring much more than enough for the service of the work. ... For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much” (Exodus 35:25, 36:5, 7).
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