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Convoy of Hope

The trucks are coming

Charity | Convoy of Hope equips believers, reaches the needy

Warmer weather is not the only sign of spring. The roll-out of huge Convoy of Hope (COH) tractor-trailers means that a new season of giving is also underway.

Convoy of Hope, founded in 1994, takes advantage of an important and growing trend in the charity world: in-kind corporate giving. Food and pharmaceutical supplies sitting unsold and near their expiration dates burden their manufacturers but bless ministries such as Convoy of Hope. Technology and brightly painted trucks allow COH to bring donated food and medical supplies to inner-city parking lots and open spaces for weekend festivals. The festivals allow local organizations that partner with COH to provide not only food and pharmaceuticals, but also haircuts, medical screenings, dental work, and gospel presentations-to thousands of families in a single day.

Founder and President Hal Donaldson says Convoy of Hope teams are "armies of compassion" deployed from a 300,000-square-foot distribution center in Springfield, Mo. The comparison to an army is apt: Though COH events look like a party, the logistics more closely resemble the operations of a military MASH unit, with an advance staff following a detailed operations manual to recruit and mobilize local partners.

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On the day of the event, typically a Saturday, volunteer nurses check blood pressure and perform other health tests. On a portable stage a local Christian band performs for teenagers. Local barbers give free haircuts. Dentists pull decayed teeth and fill cavities. Most families leave the area with groceries and an invitation to attend church the next day. Volunteers sometimes deliver more groceries the following week.

"Our fleet of trucks makes it all possible," Donaldson said. The trucks pick up in-kind donations from corporations-more than $100 million worth so far-and bring them to the distribution center. Then, when a need arises or a scheduled event comes around, the trucks move out again. The events bring together churches, community agencies, and businesses: "Our motivation is to mobilize the churches and let them see what they can do locally."

COH holds similar but scaled-down events in other countries and has also responded to disasters in more than 70 communities hit by hurricanes. In disaster situations, too, COH partners with local churches, but also with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Salvation Army, and local service organizations. COH has worked with 200,000 volunteers and 15,000 organizations: It distributed $35 million-700 truckloads-in goods during Hurricane Katrina relief alone.

Donaldson, who estimates COH has helped 20 million people worldwide, comes by his passion honestly. The generosity of others helped him when a drunk driver killed his father in 1969. Later, a meeting with Mother Teresa in Calcutta "challenged me to do something." He decided to walk streets in eight of the largest cities in the United States: There he saw "incredible need. I saw that the church can play a part in meeting the needs. We bring hope to cities that need fixing."

-with reporting by Michael Barrick

Rusty Leonard and Warren Cole Smith
Rusty Leonard and Warren Cole Smith

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