01/13/08 — Airmen collect supplies for needy families in Afghanistan

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Airmen collect supplies for needy families in Afghanistan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 13, 2008 2:18 AM

While war rages on in countries like Afghanistan, so does the prevalence of poverty among those who live there.

Soldiers are deployed there to fight for peace. In stark contrast, residents wage their own battle for a better life for their families.

Capt. Chris Kreske of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is familiar with their plight, having visited the region about nine times, he says.

"It's as bad or worse in Afghanistan as any place I have been," he says. "My heart goes out to those people. They're under oppression their entire lives."

When a deployed flight surgeon shared some of the problems faced by inhabitants there, Kreske said they were difficult to ignore. He shared the information with his pastor, Rev. David Harkin, and the men's group of St. Luke United Methodist Church.

Response was immediate. The church took on the project, committing to work with "Operation Care" to provide basic necessities.

Since early November, an active collection effort has been under way. Food and clothing, school supplies and health kits were gathered.

By Christmas, 1,600 pounds of clothing had been shipped. Organizations like MERCI Center donated 1,300 pounds of school supplies as well as 250 pounds of health kits. Stop Hunger Now also gave 2,000 pounds of dry meals for the cause.

Kreske said he has been impressed by the generosity of those willing to give to others in need. At the same time, it is a study in contrasts.

We live in a country where there is poverty, and yet at times much waste, he said.

"In the United States, we're so spoiled it's easier to buy a new wardrobe than to lose 5 pounds," he said.

For those in Afghanistan, though, while the donations are appreciated, there is still much to be done.

"I think this is a huge win for the church, being able to send out all these supplies," he said. "In terms of the country over there, this isn't even a drop in the bucket."

The effort will not stop with the holiday gift, Kreske said, noting that, "I don't think it's ever going to end as long as there's a U.S. presence over there and the need is there."

Harvin said his church is committed to continuing its support.

"As God makes it grow, we'll grow with it," he said.

St. Luke's is a "mission church," the pastor said, and thrives on being able to demonstrate its heart. Plus, he added, it is hard to turn away once the consciousness is raised.

"We really need to pay attention to this," he said. "The saying, 'Live locally, act globally' -- I think our church does that every day."

Afghanistan is an area of "desperate poverty," Harvin said. A war zone for 15 years, the people there "really haven't had a chance to settle back into the economy and grow food."

To help them begin to get back on track, he said direct aid is needed.

"Somebody hungry right now needs a meal right now," he said. "Life-saving aid is important, (and) Afghanistan would probably be one of the places that tops the list."

Providing such basics as food and clothing, Harvin said, "is an opportunity for us to make a difference in a place that has desperate need but also has some positive hope for the future."

Kreske said he would "love to stop hunger over in Afghanistan, be able to clothe the kids and adults." It's a slow process, but one that has already surpassed his expectations.

"When I started this, I was not expecting people to be this generous," he said.

He was so unassuming, in fact, that at the outset he offered to pay the shipping himself. Now, shipping costs are perhaps one of the biggest financial constraints.

Currently, an estimated 4,500 more pounds of food, health kits, school supplies and health kits are waiting to be sent.

Connie Atkinson, mission coordinator of St. Luke's, is credited with securing about "4,000 pounds of stuff through member donations and the Red Cross," Kreske said.

She shrugs off his accolades, saying, "We didn't bail him out. We just wanted to support him.

"This is not just an effort of one person. It's an effort of the community, (and) one of the biggest parts of our community is Seymour Johnson Air Force Base."

Mrs. Atkinson said the pressing needs in Afghanistan will be better met if others become involved. Churches, especially smaller ones unable to do it alone, will be especially helpful.

Willing workers are always needed, she said.

"Before we can make a big community appeal (for donations), we need a bigger infrastructure -- volunteers, helpers," Harvin said.

"Right now it's a mom and pop operation, but as we move forward, I think we'll become more strategic."

For more information on the project, contact the church at 734-7714.