The Salvatorian Mission Warehouse

Regis and Dora

It's a cool early morning as the volunteers wait. Sometime in the wee hours, three huge semi-trailers of chocolate "kisses" have arrived from Hershey Foods and now rest like great hulking beasts on the side lot of the Salvatorian Mission Warehouse in the small rural community of New Holstein, Wisconsin.

Salvatorian Brother Regis Fust throws open the warehouse door to gaze out upon his newly-arrived bounty. "Health food," he growls, and he's really not kidding. In many of the impoverished missions he and his volunteer co-workers serve, chocolate provides something the people truly need: calories.

"Two of our main needs in the missions are calories and clean water," Brother Regis explains. "I can use all the non-caffeinated soda I can get, so long as it's the regular stuff, not diet." (Diet sodas are calorie-free.)

Far more than just candy and soda, though, Brother Regis repackages and ships many other food items and medical supplies. Pallets of canned meat, fruit juice, powdered milk, nuts, aspirin, tooth brushes and tooth paste, skin lotions (a great antidote to bug bites), peanut butter, and sanitary napkins take up most of the floor space inside the 25,000 square-foot warehouse. "There are three parts to this job," says Brother Regis. "First, we acquire the goods. Second, we have to store and repack them. Third, we need money to ship them to where they're needed. So I beg."

The money comes in from individuals, foundations, and parish organizations, most of which goes to pay freight costs. The Mission Warehouse has no salaried staff. More than 99 cents of every dollar goes directly to program expenses, a cost effectiveness matched by few if any other charities. Each container loaded for shipment holds up to 35,000 lbs. Between June of 2008 and 2009, the Mission Warehouse shipped 4,934,260 lbs. of goods to missions throughout Africa and Central and South America. Total cost: $917,293.69.

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The Salvatorian Mission Warehouse began in 1961 in a room a little larger than a walk-in closet. In the years since, it has grown into an operation that serves scores of missions in dozens of countries. Brother Regis, 77, is quick to share credit for its success with Salvatorian Sister Dora Zapf (they call each other "boss") and the hundreds of volunteers who have devoted tens of thousands of hours to sorting and repacking donated goods for shipment.

"This ministry wouldn't exist if it weren't for the volunteers," Brother Regis admits. "We've got people in their nineties working here. We've had disabled individuals and a few who are living with cancer. They tell me they can't stand to be away, so they'll keep coming and giving it their all. We had one couple, each of whom had been widowed, who met here, and before long they got married. So now they're coming to work together." As of January 2009, the Mission Warehouse could claim around 312 volunteers. Average age? Nearly 76.

The list of companies that donate goods to the Mission Warehouse reads like a "Who's Who" of corporate America. In addition to Hershey's, there are clothes, shoes, and denim remnants from Lands' End, medical and sanitary supplies from Johnson & Johnson and McNeil, paper products from Georgia Pacific, foodstuffs from Armour and Sargento, and ceramic fixtures and other products from Kohler Company. Many other companies likewise donate on an occasional basis.

For these corporations, such "gifts in kind" are not only a matter of charity, but solid business sense. The federal government offers handsome tax write-offs. And there's an environmental benefit as well. The goods the Mission Warehouse receives result from overstocks, marketing and promotion plans gone awry, and a host of other corporate slip-ups. "We ship a lot of stuff that is close to its expiration date, though it's still in excellent condition," Brother Regis notes. "If we didn't take it, it would all end up in a landfill."

Quite often the shipping containers themselves, 20 to 40 feet long, are kept by the missions and converted into shelters, school rooms, clinics, and dispensaries. "They use everything we send them," says Brother Regis, "sometimes two or three times over."

A native of Germany, Sister Dora was herself a missionary in East Africa for over 12 years. She joined Brother Regis at the Mission Warehouse in 1973. "Each day we're blessed to see miracles being brought about in the missions," she tells a visitor. "The need is there, whether in Africa, the Philippines, or in Central America or Central Europe. We do what we can to help."

As he guides visitors on a tour of the Mission Warehouse, Brother Regis pauses to open the day's mail. One envelope contains a letter from a donor and a check for $10. Another holds a bill from a freight company for 377,920 lbs. of materials shipped to missions in Tanzania, Guinea-Bissau, Panama, and Bolivia: $60,921.09.

Brother Regis grins: "Did I mention that we also pray a lot?"

Unload

 

 

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Mission Statement
Founded in 1881 by Father Francis Jordan, the Society of the Divine Savior is a Roman Catholic religious community, praying and working to share the love and mercy of our Savior, Jesus Christ, through all possible means.

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Salvatorians answer this calling through
many diverse ministries, including-
-Pastors in parish ministry
-Hospital, nursing home, and prison chaplains
-Foreign missionaries
-Campus ministers
-Teachers and administrators
-Friends and counselors to youth at risk
-Communities under duress