Spangdahlem women have Hearts for Elim

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kevin Nichols
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
In the early morning of May 17, 2013, a group of 22 women, known collectively as Hearts for Elim lined up in front of a chartered bus in Kaiserslaughtern, Germany, to create a human conveyor belt loading 320 bags of donated clothing and shoes, and 50 boxes of donated medical supplies.

Their destination was the Elim Christian Center in Lwowek Slaski, Poland, to reach out and extend love and hope to the people in the nearby communities. Founded in 1992, the Elim Christian Center has served the people of Lwowek Slaski by feeding, clothing, educating and ministering to people in 30 surrounding villages.

"This medical mission trip has been happening for eight years, but it used to be specific to a church in Ramstein," Joy Allenbaugh explained, who joined the trip last year from Spangdahlem and took over the lead role this year after the previous leader moved. "Last year, the trip became independent, and 'Hearts for Elim' was born, giving this year's trip the scope and breadth of involvement from three different areas."

The Hearts for Elim group, made up of women from the Spangdahlem, Ramstein and Sweinfurt base communities, collected donations, sorted items and provided medical supplies to those in need as well as donated their time and encouragement. The women on this trip came from all walks of life, including active-duty members, civilians, teachers and military spouses who traveled for nine hours by the same bus they packed to the ceiling with the bags of donated items, and spent the next three days in service to the people of this region.

"At the end of the day, if we could make a difference to just one person, the drive and effort getting down there with all the supplies was well worth it," said Dr. Tricia Bogaard said, who made the trip from Spangdahlem and served as the optometrist on this mission, which included checking eyes and handing out donated prescription glasses to 178 patients in two days.

Once they arrived at the Elim Christian Center, the bus was unloaded and the group divided into four teams, each having a different mission. Colene Bradley, a medical coder on the trip, and Lt. Col. Nicole Ballinger, a medical provider with the 52nd Medical Operations Squadron, worked to set up a temporary health clinic at the staging area with four other women.

"It was amazing to see how well everyone got along and worked together so well, even if we had never met before," Bradley said, who is stationed at Spangdahlem with her husband Staff Sgt. Christopher Bradley. "On the medical team, I worked one day with a lady whom I had never met before, yet we were able to combine our knowledge and quickly work as a team to help provide the services and supplies these Polish people needed."

"Even though the conditions of the temporary clinic were not ideal, we quickly learned that we could make it work," Bogaard said, originally from St Louis, Mo. "To take care of people, you just need a little space, a few basic things and compassion to help others."

Over two days, the medical team provided preventive health screenings and consultation to more than 300 men, women and children through the help of individual translators. Even though the language barrier presented challenges which mirrored a familiar deployed environment for some of the active-duty team members, another goal of the mission trip is to simply interact, touch and pray with the patients. The Elim Christian Center also has a pastor on staff to help the medical team. Many of the patients expressed through the local translators that this is a big part of why they come to see the Hearts for Elim team for medical support when they are in town.

"I only come so that the doctors, the pastor and the translators will pray over me and my injuries," one recurring patient said through the translators.

While the medical team worked to bring medical healing to the patients, the other teams served the Elim Christian Center in other aspects. The clothing team sorted the donated clothing, organized and arranged the clothes and shoes while those in need "shopped" through the many aisles of items. The carpet cleaning team cleaned carpets in the center where guests visit. While cleaning carpets in the church nursery, the team found some small choking hazards within the carpet that they believe may have saved the lives of the approximately 10 children that come to the nursery on any given Sunday.

Not only was Spangdahlem AB represented by nine of the 22 women on this trip, Spangdahlem Elementary School held a drive that netted 470 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste. Girl Scout Troop 220 decorated gift bags and cards to encourage the team and offer caring words to the people of Poland.

"This year, Spangdahlem really stepped up in support of this mission with hosting two donation drives for medication at our commissary, the SES and Girl Scout Troop 220 adding their support, as well as help from individual financial donors here," Allenbaugh said.

Three days later, after 320 garbage bags full of medical supplies, donations and remaining items were handed out and sorted for use, the Hearts for Elim team returned home to their families on a much emptier bus in the midnight hours of May 20.

"Just seeing the people's eyes light up when they saw us and their show of gratitude, even when we did not speak the same language, was rewarding enough for me," Bradley added.