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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinAugust 22, 2003 Issue 

Mission celebrates 40 years

Volunteers continue to ship supplies to the needy around the world

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

When they gather for their annual potluck/picnic Aug. 24, the 300 volunteers at the Salvatorian Mission Warehouse will celebrate a milestone. The New Holstein facility has been shipping supplies to missionaries worldwide for 40 years.

"They feel an ownership here," Sr. Dora Zapf, SDS, says of the volunteers. She points to the volunteers' dedication that brings them to the warehouse every week, year after year.

"We have young people come. They were children, who came with their mothers, and now they come back to help," says Sr. Zapf, who worked in the missions of Tanzania from 1961 to 1971. She has been at the Mission Warehouse for 30 years.

Don Ertl, a member of St. Mary Parish in Stockbridge, is one of those long-time volunteers. Twelve years ago, Don came one day with his wife, Dorothy.

"I was so taken up by this," he said. "I was touched by the Holy Spirit... We're doing good for the poor."

The Ertls come each Thursday. "If they don't have work for us," Don added, "everybody cries about it."

Another long-time, weekly volunteer is 98-year-old Helen Kirsch. She says the warehouse is "almost like a second home."

The average age of volunteers at the warehouse, started 40 years ago by Br. Regis Fust, SDS, is 75. Most are retired and able to come during the day to prepare shipments for missions in Central and South America, eastern and western Africa.

"The volunteers are giving of their time, knowing that what we are sending is needed," said Br. Fust.

Volunteers work regular rotations, generally once a week. The 25,000-square-foot warehouse is stacked with cases, many from name brand manufacturers, holding baby formula, over-the-counter medicines, over-run clothing, food and even candy left over from holidays and a source of much needed fat for malnourished and HIV-positive children.

Volunteers take these supplies, break down boxes and remove unnecessary packaging that would take up valuable shipping space. Everything is then tightly packed into containers and onto semi-trailers for shipment. Repackaging is handled with scientific precision. Paper products, which weigh less, fill up excess room in large shipments and provide cushioning. Chocolate is packed toward the middle and surrounded by items like crackers, to provide insulation and prevent the candy from melting in hot climates.

Volunteers often come in parish groups, from Neenah, Appleton, Little Chute, even Waupun in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. St. Raphael Parish, where Sr. Zapf is a member, sends volunteers twice a week.

Fr. Dan Felton, pastor at St. Raphael, says Br. Fust, Sr. Zapf and their volunteers "give witness to the gospel at least seven days a week."

Much of what the warehouse ships is donated, or purchased at discounted prices. But shipping costs money. Lots of money. For example, a recent load of 32,000 pounds of donated baby formula - valued at $330,000 - was shipped to Guatemala at a cost of $3,600. In the first six months of this year, more than 1,500 tons of supplies were transported, at shipping costs of more than $363,000.

To pay these shipping costs, the warehouse relies on donations. Some funding comes from the companies that donate the supplies. Other money, according to Sr. Zapf, comes from volunteers themselves, many bringing checks in regularly. "Here are my dues for letting me work here" is what they tell her.

Not all the supplies go through New Holstein; some are routed directly from manufacturing or processing plants to the missions - such as pinto beans shipped from Iowa to Nicaragua.

Br. Fust and Sr. Zapf say the personal relationships developed with each mission separates the Mission Warehouse from other relief agencies.

"We pack it up special for each mission," said Sr. Zapf. "It's personalized. We ship according to need, not according to what we have in the warehouse."

Therefore, they know if a mission needs emergency food during a drought, or stuffed toys for children traumatized by an earthquake. It also avoids snafus like sending winter clothing to a tropical zone, or - as the U.S. government recently did - rice sent to Iraq.

"That's not part of their (Iraqi) diet," said Br. Fust, shaking his head and adding that it also drove up the price of rice, which he often buys from producers.

He learned this personalized approach early - when he first began helping missionaries 40 years ago after his sister, a nurse working in an American hospital, asked him where to donate excess medical supplies. He contacted a Salvatorian missionary, who arranged for shipment to a missionary hospital. Then came other missionary hospitals run by Salvatorians. Then missions run by Benedictines, Capuchins and Dominicans. And, as Br. Fust puts it, "my part-time work (some of which had been done by lay volunteers even before 1963) became full-time."

And those missionaries remain in constant contact - via letters, phone and email. All the letters to the Mission Warehouse are shared with the volunteers.

Betty Bonde of School Hill, a regular volunteer, enjoys hearing from the missionaries. "They are so thankful for what Br. Regis does," she said.

Also, when missionaries come stateside for a visit, they stop in New Holstein, located in the farm country of Calumet County. Sr. Zapf says they are welcomed by volunteers as "one of their own."

As they, in fact, are. Br. Fust says people may think of missionary work as something you leave home to accomplish. But staying right here and packaging aspirin and sausages for starving children in Ghana, Africa, can be just as crucial.

"Oftentimes, people want to work hands-on with the missions," said Br. Fust. "(But) it can be very frustrating in the missions, working hands-on, if you don't have anything to work with."

The volunteers in New Holstein hope to keep sending lots of work for a long time.

(For information, call (920)898-5898, email: [email protected], or visit online at

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