By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
KINGSTREE — A shirt sleeve poking out of the large truck filled with clothing and furniture seemed to wave a greeting as it backed into the parking lot at St. Ann’s Outreach.
The steel container was loaded with items sent by caring people in Bermuda to be distributed by the outreach to people in need. It arrived in Kingstree Dec. 17.
The effort to collect, find support, coordinate and ship the items was coordinated by Stewardship People In Need, an organization created specifically for this task. Joan Aspinall, a native of Bermuda, was so struck by the poverty she saw around her on Pawleys Island and in the Grand Strand that she decided to do something about it. She took the images of destitution home with her and garnered the support of the community and started wheels turning.
Aspinall and her husband, Holger Haggstrom have vacationed on Pawleys Island for years and were always struck by the dichotomy of rich and poor. Things started happening when she was home organizing an arts event, which she decided would be the perfect time to collect donations of clothing and furniture. She has a background in public relations and began a campaign to blanket the community with press releases about her new organization’s intent. She contacted hotels and churches with the help of Cecile Harris Goodman and Rose Ann Wales, both of Bermuda.
“I tackled it like a professional job,” Aspinall said. “I came up with SPIN and thought, ‘what a fantastic word,’ and I love the concept of stewardship.”
The effort received plenty of media coverage, particularly after Franciscan sisters Johnna Ciezobka and Susanne Dziedzic sent her poverty statistics for the state, which Aspinall released to the press. At the time, donations were taken for Hurricane Mitch survivors in Nicaragua and Honduras.
In Bermuda, unwanted furniture or clothing goes directly to landfills or is destroyed because, at 22 square miles, the island is so small. Bermuda is approximately 65 percent black and 35 percent white, but the poverty is not as extreme.
“The shacks down there (on Pawleys) are so horrific, it bothered me so much,” Aspinall said. “In Bermuda, people are not treated in this manner. I felt I was betraying my Bermudian people just living there. They would never tolerate such poverty.”
Aspinall discovered the outreach when Sister Suzanne spoke at a Mass in Precious Blood Church on Pawleys Island.
Volunteers from Precious Blood, St. Ann’s Church in Kingstree and outreach center tutors and neighbors helped unload the container. Somers Isle Shipping Ltd. carried the freight gratis, and it was shipped out Dec. 3. It would have cost a minimum of $2,000. Precious Blood also donated over $600 to truck the 20-foot container from Jacksonville, Fla., to Kingstree.
The sisters were delighted and overwhelmed by the amount of clothing, furniture and bedding.
“We have more fun doing this,” Sister Suzanne said. “We enjoy opening every single box. We have just never had it in this magnitude. We couldn’t visualize how much it was.”
The day after they received the goods, the Franciscans held a yard sale of bedding and household appliances, both hot items in their community. The piles of clothing had to wait for another day so they could be sorted by outreach volunteers.
Simon “Si” Bula, chairman of the outreach committee at Precious Blood, said the church, which has adopted St. Ann’s Outreach, was eager to help any efforts made for the center.
Aspinall said that the unifying aspects of SPIN, the coming together of secular organizations, the pledge by African Methodist Episcopal churches in Bermuda to help on a regular basis, are also a gift.
“I felt like things went so smoothly it must be divine intervention,” she said. “The caliber of people who helped represented all different economic statuses, but you could never tell the difference, we’re all friends.”
Rebecca Tisdale a parishioner at St. Ann’s pointed out that some of the volunteers who helped unload the truck were some of the people in need.
“But you could never tell that, because they are helping others,” she said.
Sister Johnna said that participation reflects their ministerial efforts.
“We try to build bridges in the community,” she said. “It’s not just about making a donation but being involved.”