ELIZABETHTOWN — One by one, sometimes several at a time, those who were either homeless or simply in need of a warm blanket or sleeping bag came to the Bladen Journal office last week to pick out what they wanted — and the result surprised everyone.
“We all thought it was our chance to give a blessing to those who truly needed one,” said W. Curt Vincent, general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. “But I feel sure each of these folks blessed us in one way or another.”
The effort, which has become known as “Roger’s Wish,” was the brainchild of Roger T. Grunder, a local homeless man who spent the past two years turning his life around. Once wracked with drug and alcohol battles, Grunder found a way to turn to God, began working with the Bladen Crisis Assistance Thrift Store and opening his heart to those in need.
In late August, before he could really get the idea to collect blankets and sleeping bags for the local homeless and needy off the ground, Grunder was killed in a car accident.
“Roger was a friend and regular visitor to our office, so we decided to take hold of Roger’s vision for this and keep it going,” Vincent said. “And it attracted the donation of more than 100 items, along with quite a few requests to make this an annual event … which we will do.”
The effort, which collected the items throughout the month of October, was a bigger success than first imagined. Donated for “Roger’s Wish” were 62 full-size blankets, 37 sleeping bags, 10 children’s blankets, three comforters, two Snuggies and one large quilt.
“He’d love this,” said Roger L. Grunder about his son. “This is more than he ever dreamed, and I know his returning to God had a lot to do with it.
“He’d be happy this will go on each year, but he’d want to leave town during this because he’d be embarrassed,” he added. “He wouldn’t want the attention on him like this.”
Roger’s sister agreed.
“I think this is beautiful,” said Maria Brandt. “Roger and I talked about this a lot because of his own homelessness. He saw some things I did with my church and he wanted to do something.
“He always had a heart for those in need, especially the children,” she said.
Many of those who came in to pick out a sleeping bag or blanket didn’t want to give their names, but they did have plenty to say about “Roger’s Wish.” Some of those comments included:
— “I really need a warm blanket while I’m getting my dialysis, so bless you for doing this.”
— “It’s getting cold, and this will really help.”
— “I’ve prayed for something like this. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.”
— “We’re not used to having something new like this. Usually we have have to make do with leftovers and what people don’t want.”
One woman was completely moved to tears as she chose a blanket, and two of the young children who picked out a small, soft blanket of their own gave hugs to Bladen Journal employees.
Unfortunately, about 25 people had to be turned away when the items were completely gone. But the overall success of the effort was unmistakeable.
“Roger would be tickled to know this will be going on each year,” said Ruth Hall, manager of the Thrift Store. “He’d be grinning ear-to-ear, just so excited with the success.
“I think it’s awesome what y’all did,” she added. “There are so many who are in need here.”