A train that runs worldwide

A village of volunteers help Orphan Grain Train travel the world – and provide much more than food

Volunteers for the Orphan Grain Train.

The phrase "it takes a village" has probably been overused in the world of philanthropy. But for Orphan Grain Train, it's more than a metaphor.

Orphan Grain Train is a Christian volunteer network based in Norfolk, Nebraska, that ships donated food, clothing, Bibles and Christian literature, and other items to people in 66 countries. That includes the U.S., the source of nearly all of its volunteers and donations.

One of the aspects that make Orphan Grain Train distinctive is what it calls a "volunteer village," a portable setup of housing, showers and kitchens for people who answer the call to help.

"We may not be the first to respond, but we will be the last to leave," says Grant Schmidt, vice president of operations. In response to the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, "we had all of our equipment and our villages in New Orleans for more than five years. We pride ourselves on that: We won't leave until the job's done."

25 years of service

Orphan Grain Train has been doing the job since 1992. This year marks Orphan Grain Train's 25th anniversary of serving those in need. The organization was founded by the Rev. Ray S. Wilke, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Norfolk, Nebraska, and Clayton Andrews, president of a locally based moving firm.

The source of its name is John 14:18. Jesus says to his disciples, "I will not leave you as orphans." In a sense, Schmidt says, "we are all orphans" in need of help and grace. And by helping each other, we become instruments of God's grace.

The power of giving

The organization facilitates that help primarily with trucks and planes. Last year, Orphan Grain Train shipped more than 4.6 million Mercy Meals worldwide, as well as clothing, blankets, household items, medical and hospital equipment – even hay to drought-stricken areas.

Orphan Grain Train has also provided medical shunts that have reduced the incidence of hydrocephalus in Nicaragua and Kyrgyzstan.

Often we learn how much we take for granted when we meet someone who does without. For instance, in parts of Africa and the Philippines, many young women stop going to school and places of worship when they start menstruating, because they don't have access to feminine hygiene products.

"It's something we take for granted here," Schmidt notes. Those young women don't: Donations of sanitary products allow them to continue their educations and congregational worship.

Fueling the future

"Thrivent has been a huge blessing to Orphan Grain Train," Schmidt says. Thrivent and its members have given the organization more than $2 million since 2011. Thrivent Choice Dollars® grant funds have been a particularly generous source of funding.

Thrivent also hosts events to help spread the word about the organization's work. "This has been a great way for us to promote to churches and other groups that provide Orphan Grain Train with much-needed supplies," Schmidt says.

Thanks to a global village of hard-working volunteers and generous donors – including Thrivent and the many members who've climbed aboard – Orphan Grain Train is well poised to roll for at least another 25 years.

Climb aboard the Orphan Grain Train

Eligible Thrivent members, you can support the work of Orphan Grain Train by directing Choice Dollars or applying to lead a Thrivent Action Team.

Not a member or don't have Choice Dollars® to direct? You can support Orphan Grain Train by making a personal donation. Learn more about Thrivent and what makes us different.