Donations bury Illinois town

The Rev. David Wilder would prefer that people keep their pink flamingos to themselves.


"We really don't have the facilities for it here."

—Rev. David Wilder

The Rev. David Wilder would prefer that people keep their pink flamingos to themselves.

Not that anyone actually donated these ornamental wonderbirds to his church clothing center. But Wilder says pink flamingos are a good example of what he doesn't want junk that nobody else wants either, especially people who are trying to recover from a tornado.

"At the moment that they're cleaning out their homes, they don't need pink flamingos," he said. "We've actually had to stop taking donations.

"We've got enough to clothe Peoria."

Wilder started taking donations the day after the tornado hit Sunday morning. The local Salvation Army was inundated with donations, so Wilder volunteered to take over.

"The stuff was getting in their way, so we took them to our church," he said.

He soon got a lot more than he bargained for more than half million items donated in four days.

Within two days, Wilder received more clothes than he knew what to do with. People were coming to his church the Faith Tabernacle Church of Pekin from a 60-mile radius. Wilder attributes this tremendous outpouring of support to the dozens of interviews he conducted, including interviews with television stations in Peoria.

"I've done more interviews in the past two weeks than I've done in my whole life," he said.

That is no doubt the reason, he thinks, why so many people showed up at his church, including an elderly man who donated a chair on Sunday.

"It's all I've got to give," he said. Wilder couldn't say no.

Wilder had a hard time turning other people down. Although they got more than they needed by the second day, the church kept taking in donations for four days total.

Now the church is packed the sanctuary, a 40-foot storage trailer out back, and every cranny of the otherwise available space, are all crammed full of donated stuff.

"We really don't have the facilities for it here," he said.

Wilder, however, is certain that some of the stuff will be helpful to tornado survivors. A lot of these people really haven't been able to do much cleaning up, he said, because they are waiting on their insurance companies to complete damage assessments.

So Wilder plans to hold on to most of the donated goods for a few weeks, or until this group of people is properly taken care of.

"Basically, whatever they need to put them back together that's what we're trying to give them," he said.

He and his congregation have learned some important lessons about donations management, however. First, Wilder said, he will be more careful in the future to be more specific about what kinds of donations he wants. Second, he thinks that a permanent storage facility needs to be set up in town, something that his church is already looking into.

"I think about what we're going to have to do is come up with a facility to handle this kind of situation," he said. "Whether it's flooding, fires or tornados, churches are going to have to be prepared."

Third, Wilder said he will make sure to communicate more closely with other relief groups and churches, partly in order to prevent donation headaches which others with more experience might have been able to point out to him beforehand.

Beyond these lessons learned, Wilder still has one problem he needs to solve: what he's going to do with all the leftover stuff.

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