Volunteers from around the Hill Country came to Blanco County Saturday to assemble hygiene kits for survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but you had to look quick to see it.
"I got there just a few minutes late," Susan Hill marveled, "and I almost missed it!"
Susan did find a place on the assembly line at the First United Methodist Church in Johnson City, putting items in the bags as they passed down the long table.
The Reverend Ken Greene, pastor of the Blanco United Methodist Church, was close behind her, but found all the assembly-line positions filled.
The room-full of workers was ready to go even before the official start time, so they began a little early, using the process they had worked out the year before, when they filled hundreds of kits for Haiti after the earthquake there.
In 20 minutes, they had finished more than 100 kits, had run out of supplies, and were packing up to go home. Late-comers who drifted in at 9:30 found an empty room.
"We’re getting good at this," said Merlyn Saxton. "It would be better if disaster kits weren’t needed anywhere, but as long as they are, it’s a good thing to have an experienced team that knows how to pack ‘em up in a hurry."
The need for the kits already is apparent in Japan.
Northern Japan has a large elderly population, many chronically ill, and many more suffering in the sub-freezing cold without electricity and heating fuel.
Vedena Brown was interested in the problem of malnutrition among survivors. She and her husband, Ray live in Doss, and came from Fredericksburg United Methodist Church to help with kits.
"Some of them are getting by on only 150 calories a day. That’s a half-glass of orange juice, and they’ll burn those calories off in 45 minutes of walking," she pointed out.
"We are getting reports that some people are not able to find food and water [at all]", United Methodist missionary Jonathan McCurley reported from the quake area, "and people are struggling to adjust to continual blackouts," which are expected to continue through April.
The cold and lack of food already are creating health problems. Besides pre-existing medical issues, influenza and diarrheal diseases are circulating in the crowded shelters, and hepatitis is a threat. Medicines of all kinds are in short supply. Even working showers are hard to find in shelters.
"That’s why these health kits are so important," said Tom Walston, lay leader of the host First United Methodist Church in Johnson City.
"Sanitation-related illness can whip through confined shelters like that in a hurry, and the best prevention is the most basic: clean food, clean water, and clean people."
The personal hygiene kits were part of a quick-response campaign from dozens of churches around the Hill Country. More kits were being put together at Wimberley UMC and Gaddis Memorial UMC in Comfort. San Angelo District reported 200 kits ready for delivery.
"We’re a small church," said Pastor Tommie Tucker of Grace UMC in Granite Shoals, "but we were able to contribute a couple of boxes of kits to the campaign."
Whether big boxes or small, they all join the same pipeline and become part of the flow moving from the Texas Hill Country to wherever the disaster need is greatest.
Now, with hygiene kits on the way to Japan, the relief campaign here is turning to raising money.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief is an international aid organization, whose administrative expenses are paid by the worldwide church. That means 100 cents of every dollar donated here turns into a dollar’s worth of relief at the other end of the pipe.
"Right now, UMCOR is working through local churches in Japan and through an international medical team, and they’re already delivering aid to survivors," said Pastor Norman Roe of First UMC.
"The churches are delivering food, water and fuel for cooking and heating. The medical teams are operating rescue-dog teams, operating an inflatable hospital and distributing water-purification units."
That work already is being supported by central Texans. Pastor Greene delivered a check from his church in Blanco for disaster relief in Japan, and said he and his congregation would be working on ways to raise more.
For more information, call JoAnn at 830-868-0808.