More than 2,700 volunteers go to the United Methodist-related Sager Brown Depot each year to process disaster relief supplies, distribute boxes of food to seniors and assist the surrounding community in Baldwin, La.
But some volunteers, like Evelyn Lewis, have a special connection to the center, now run by the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Lewis, who has lived near Bayou Teche in Baldwin for seven decades, remembers Sager Brown as a haven from the racial prejudices of the South. She attended school there as a child, during a time when teaching African-Americans to read and write was illegal.
"We had subjects here that the public schools didn't have then," says Lewis, who became a teacher. "In the 10th grade, I had chemistry and French."
Sager Brown opened its doors in 1867 as an orphanage for African-American children left homeless by the Civil War. Later, students would come from all over the country seeking educational opportunities at the school. The United Methodist Women organization has owned the property since the early 1900s.
The school at Sager Brown closed in 1978, but after Hurricane Andrew battered Louisiana in 1992, the United Methodist Committee on Relief created a center at the 25-acre site for storage and distribution of relief supplies. Those supplies are used to respond to human suffering throughout the world.
Volunteers help by processing donated supplies and creating items such as health kits, school kits, sewing kits, layette kits and flood buckets and preparing them for shipment. Volunteers also are involved in local community outreach programs, ranging from the rehabilitation of houses to assistance in public schools.
Three generations of Lewis' family found new opportunities through Sager Brown, and she currently helps distribute boxes of food in the "Food for Seniors" program. "Now they are helping everybody, worldwide," she says. "And I think that's a wonderful thing."
As of February, material resources were urgently needed to replenish supplies at the Sager Brown Depot, according to Executive Director Gwen Redding. The depot just shipped a load of health kits to Armenia on Jan. 20 and is planning to send cargo containers of goods to Angola and Afghanistan, as well as health and school kits to Iran. Each container can hold 14,000 to 30,000 kits - valued at $167,000 to $360,000 per load.
Bulk items needed for the kit program include toothpaste, cloth baby diapers and ruled paper. Specific information about the needs at Sager Brown can be found at www.sagerbrown.org, the depot's Web site. Information also is available by calling the depot toll free at (800) 814-8765
Monetary donations also are encouraged. Checks, earmarked for UMCOR Advance No. 901515, UMCOR Sager Brown, can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed to UMCOR Sager Brown, P.O. Box 850, Baldwin, LA 70514. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.