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What's Up Magazine

Orphan Grain Train

Aug 16, 2013 11:58AM ● By Cate Reynolds

When a disaster strikes, in the mix of confusion and grief, comes the helping hands of volunteers who strive to bring light to the situation. That is where the Orphan Grain Train comes in—founded in 1992 by the Rev. Ray S. Wilke after a moving trip to Latvia and Russia to do volunteer work. Wilke came back with a heavy heart and a dream, and with the help of Clayton Andrews founded the Orphan Grain Train.

Today the organization works out of 18 national branches, all staffed by volunteers, which transport clothing, medical supplies, sanitary supplies, school supplies, and much more across the country, as well as internationally, to areas in need. Since its inception, the organization has delivered more than 63 million pounds of aid to more than 40 countries across five continents. “Orphan Grain Train is an organization of volunteers who cares about people, so if there is a need and there is something we can do, we step in and do it,” says Elfie Eberle, head of the Maryland branch of the organization. “It is very gratifying work; you know that you are helping people who can’t help themselves.”

Orphan Grain Train also uses its nationwide branch of volunteers to respond to national disasters such as blizzards, droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and more. Aside from simply collecting and distributing clothing and supplies, the organization takes on special projects, such as adopting an orphanage or sewing pillowcases into dresses to be donated to needy children.

One of the biggest projects the Orphan Grain Train has participated in was the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. During the course of their involvement with relief efforts, more than 143 shipments were sent from many branches and distributed among multiple cities in Louisiana and Mississippi. “Katrina has been the biggest and the [longest] lasting because we’re still there,” says Eberle. “We stayed long after everyone left because there was still a great need. We will hang in there until the problem is solved.”

The Marland branch is currently headquartered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Annapolis, but operates out of five separate locations throughout the state, each serving a different purpose for the collection effort.

Overall, the Maryland organization keeps its hands full, having recently aided the town of Crisfield in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The Maryland branch trucked more than 2,000 items in late 2012, including scrub buckets filled with cleaning supplies, warm gloves, hats, socks, and blankets. And they are still recruiting construction crews to go down to Crisfield and work with churches to rebuild the homes that were either completely leveled or substantially destroyed.

The organization also is looking for volunteers to help organize donations, load containers, or construct a new warehouse once funds are collected. For more information on the Orphan Grain Train, including volunteering with the organization, upcoming fundraisers, and ongoing relief efforts, visit

–Allison Baudoin