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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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First floor clothing, shoes and toys

Alaska church turns into store after forest fire destroys homes

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Wasilla, Alaska, became a makeshift department store during a weeklong forest fire that charred 37,000 acres in June.

The fire caused nearly 2,000 people to flee to emergency shelters. Five members of Good Shepherd lost their homes.

In response to a request for food and clothing, an emergency shelter at the high school was inundated. That's when Good Shepherd offered help.

Three UPS vans shuttled clothing from the high school to the church. Using church phones, members Larry and Kris Healy summoned a crew to unload the vans.

Meanwhile, Nancy Norman, a project coordinator, called on local building suppliers, who donated enough plywood and sawhorses to set up more than t wo dozen makeshift tables on the church lawn. A clothing store supplied eight racks for dresses and hanging garments.

By the next day volunteers had sorted, labeled and doled out 500 pairs of men's pants — among other items.

A toy store was set up in the narthex. Toiletries lined the hall between the sanctuary and offices. Hundreds of shoes sat on shelves between the church's main entrances.

In other relief efforts, Lutheran Social Services of Alaska is helping develop a resource center that will serve as a clearinghouse for relief information and community resources. The center will coordinate volunteers and advocate for families affected by the fire.

Financial grants so far have come from Lutheran Disaster Response ($18,000), Lutheran Brotherhood ($4,000) and Aid Association for Lutherans ($10,000).

But some victims needed more than monetary consolation. Linda Staley, who coordinated much of the effort, said, "I think the hardest part on some people is just the stories they hear."


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