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Orphan Grain Train adds US to its donation list

Ione Somsen packs suit jackets into a box to be shipped overseas as Phyllis Denchfield packs clothes behind her. The two volunteered at the Orphan Grain Train building Nov. 3 in Jamestown. Tom LaVenture / The Sun

When the Orphan Grain Train in Bottineau closed in 2014 after more than 20 years of sending food, clothing and grain to orphanages in Latvia, Jamestown took over the work as the North Dakota Branch.

"People who knew about the closing wanted an Orphan Grain Train in North Dakota," said Sue Corwin, the branch treasurer. "The people in Jamestown talked about it, found board members and church members who wanted to do it."

The Orphan Grain Train began rolling at Concordia Lutheran Church, using a space to sort and package donations. The boxes went into a shipping container that Corwin said took up a third of the church parking lot. Donations went into one end and what volunteers sorted and packed went into the other end and were shipped to one country.

"It was mostly clothes we sent to Liberia," said Andrea Eckstein, inventory/shipping manager. "We were at the church about 10 months."

They purchased the former CH Carpenter Lumber Co. Eckstein said she took one look at the warehouse and wondered if they would ever fill it up.

"We talked about renting some of it out," she said.

Three years later, the nonprofit is talking about needing more space. New areas of need have brought a larger variety of donations, as well as growth in donations in general. Orphan Grain Train ships to five countries and now areas in the U.S.

Not only have donations grown, what's needed has grown.

"People come from all over North Dakota and some from Montana," Corwin said. "They donate all kinds of things. And here the Anne Carlsen Center has donated medical equipment such as wheelchairs. The hospital (Jamestown Regional Medical Center) has donated medical supplies."

They've also connected with Social Services here for those in need.

"For example, It's things people would need if their house burned down," Eckstein said. "The things we won't accept as a donation are knick knacks, electronics or TVs. Otherwise, it's whatever's been donated."

They've also been involved in hurricane relief. To get items donated to cover this expansion, Eckstein said Orphan Grain Train uses its website and a newsletter and connects with churches in the region.

"Wherever we can think of to get the word out including word of mouth," she said.

Financial support is most needed to pay the cost of shipping overseas.

"We pay anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 to send a container overseas," Corwin said.

The other thing most needed now is volunteers. Volunteers sort, pack, fill the container and ship it. Eckstein and Corwin say the usual hours of 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and Monday aren't enough. They're willing to accommodate groups who can volunteer at other times.

"We always need community involvement," Corwin said.

To volunteer or for more information, call Corwin at 320-3259 or Eckstein at 658-9057.