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Adventists handle donations

If the Adventists build it, the NASCAR fans will come.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BALTIMORE | October 8, 2003

"After Andrew, there were mountains of used clothing."

—Steve Stillwell

If the Adventists build it, the NASCAR fans will come.

That's a truism that Steve Stillwell learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, when NASCAR fans packed up 51 tractor-trailer loads of donations for the Adventist Community Services warehouse in Rocky Mount, N.C.

Stillwell, who is the manager of the post-Isabel donations warehouse (based this time in Greenville, N.C.), said another NASCAR drive, to be held Oct. 11 at the Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, will likely bring in another massive load of goods.

Stillwell and his workers, however, are ready for a break before they begin unloading all those trucks. They have already spent two straight weeks on the job, so they're planning a four-day weekend before the NASCAR trailers pull up to the warehouse on Monday morning.

The group of half a dozen ACS workers and about a dozen, daily local volunteers have been sorting out donations that have come in from all over the East Coast from West Palm Beach, Fla., from Savannah, Ga., from all over North Carolina. They organized and inventoried the goods, which are stored in a 14,000 sq. ft. warehouse donated by Regional Storage Transport.

"They basically just pile together whatever they got and ship it over here," Stillwell said. "The warehouse is like a wholesale distribution center. It's basically anything and everything."

Not exactly everything, he noted, pointing out that careful and timely public relations made sure that the ACS warehouse got at least 80 percent of the what Stillwell requested nonperishable food and "personal care items" (such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant and other hygiene products).

His appeal to the media, in which he asked that the public be informed to send only monetary donations until more specific items were asked for, helped prevent the kind of donations nightmare he saw accumulate at a warehouse set up after Hurricane Andrew.

"After Andrew, there were mountains of used clothing," he said. "That was a disaster in itself, getting rid of all the clothing down there. But the trick is getting to the media early."

Stillwell said he was successful in doing that this time. But the ACS warehouse has received some things not requested, like supplies for infants and five Wal-Mart truckloads of bottled water. That influx has been manageable, though, and the Wal-Mart shipment has put the ACS in the position of being the bottled water distributor for disaster workers in the 36 North Carolina counties hit by Isabel.

Thankfully, Stillwell has been able mostly to avoid donations of used clothing, the bane of veteran disaster responders. So far, the ACS warehouse has only received four or five boxes.

Meanwhile, Stillwell and his workers are trying to match up donations with the people who need them. When they first set up the warehouse, ACS workers were supplying frontline responders in North Carolina. Now they've moved on to supplying local food banks. ACS teams don't deliver the good themselves, he said. But if food banks or disaster workers are not able to transport the donations, the American Red Cross has been providing delivery trucks.

What exactly will happen on Monday is anyone's guess. But Stillwell is pretty sure that the scene won't be quite as hectic as what the Rocky Mount warehouse experienced after Floyd.

"We had several hundred volunteers in the warehouse at one time," he said. "We honestly hope that we don't get that many this time, but I really doubt we will."

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