Though it didn’t officially open for another 30 minutes, Umber’s Do-It-Best hardware store’s parking lot was packed beyond capacity at 9:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning.
Thanks to an effort with its genesis at Avalon Missionary Church, dozens of the church’s parishioners descended on the Waynedale hardware store, looking to purchase clean-up supplies intended for donation to two recently hard-hit communities.
Avalon’s Lead Pastor, Paul K. Maurer, told his congregation on Sunday, June 2, that he had watched recent news reports of tornadoes that had devastated the communities of Pendleton, Indiana, and Celina, Ohio. One person was killed in Ohio, and one injured in Indiana. Property damage in both towns was extensive.
Maurer said the convention was to just move on and forget the troubles after hearing news of such tragedy. Not this time, he told a nearly-full house at his church, located at 2121 Lower Huntington Road, between rousing rounds of applause.
“We are not going to just move on,” Maurer said, “we are going to respond, and we are going to respond in a big way.”
Looking for a way to help, Maurer called churches in both cities. Both communities agreed that they could use any help Avalon was willing to offer.
So Maurer called Umber’s owner, Dave Umber, and asked if he could open his store early to let his parishioners purchase items the communities needed to help clean up their storm damage. The store normally opens at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Avalon members began arriving about 9:30 a.m.
Not only would he be happy to oblige, Umber told the pastor, he’d get his store ready for the unusual rush the night before by stocking up his shelves with the needed supplies.
In addition, Umber said, many of his employees would work that morning free of charge, donating their time for the cause.
One such worker was Patty Goehringer, a cashier who’s worked at Umbers for 14 years. “It feels good to do this,” she said as she worked without pay, “and to see such a big turnout.”
And, Umber said, he’d offer many of the supplies at up to 10 % off their actual cost. “We’re really happy to partner in this,” Umber said. “This is just our way of helping.”
Pausing his sermon only about 10 minutes after he’d begun, Maurer told his roughly 100 followers they were going to drive the couple minutes to the store, located at 2413 Lower Huntington Road, and buy the supplies immediately, then return and load them up into some trailers the church had in its parking lot.
Lines at the store snaked from its two small registers, all the way to the back of the store as Avalon worshipers picked up supplies to purchase and donate.
Francine Ruiz and Shelly Ferguson were two Avalon members that were standing in the long, meandering line, their small, plastic shopping baskets packed to the brim with cleaning supplies. Ferguson was buying sponges, gloves, disinfecting wipes, and paper towels toward the effort.
“It feels good to give back and help like this,” the Fort Wayne resident said. “I know what it’s like to need the church’s help, so I’m happy to be able to do this and be a steward of God.”
Things the towns requested for their cleaning efforts included duct tape, rags, sponges, disinfecting wipes, trash bags, buckets, cleaners, paper towels, shovels, rakes, gloves and grass seed.
Maurer said all three of his church’s services would be doing the same thing that morning, the 9:00 a.m., the 10:30 a.m., and the 12:00 p.m. Spanish-language service.
Members were so generous with their purchases, even Maurer was surprised, he said. “I expected people to go in and buy, like, a roll of tape, but people are coming out of here with carts full of stuff.”
And while neither Maurer nor Umber had an estimate for how much was spent during the donation spree, Maurer estimated that each church member was spending about $50 toward the cause.
Once the supplies were purchased and returned to Avalon’s parking lot, volunteers from the church loaded it into trailers in preparation for its travel to southern Indiana and just across the border in Ohio. Maurer said volunteers would be tasked with helping to drive the equipment to the towns in the coming days. Church members also were being asked to then give their time to help with the clean-up efforts once the supplies arrived.
Maurer told his congregation the effort really was more than just an act of charity, it was a ray of hope for those in their darkest hours.
“We are going to give hope to the people of Pendleton and Celina,” he said in a booming voice, “this is who we are.”
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