ELIZABETHTOWN — On Monday, Oct. 3, the Bladen Journal will officially open the fourth annual “Roger’s Wish” project — an effort to collect blankets and sleeping bags for the homeless and needy of Bladen County.
But for some, waiting until October wasn’t part of the plan.
A number of folks who wish to remain anonymous have already stopped by the Bladen Journal office in downtown Elizabethtown to drop off blankets and, on Wednesday, 11-year-old Adriana Spencer of Elizabethtown, the current Miss Las Amigas/Whiteville Chapter, stopped by to donate several gently used and new blankets to the effort.
“Probably for the first time since we started this, we’ve actually got quite a few blankets before the collection even begins,” said W. Curt Vincent, general manager/editor of the Bladen Journal. “We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and questions from people wanting to know if we’re going to do this again, so I think this year will be a big one.”
“Roger’s Wish” is a community project by the newspaper in memory of Roger Grunder, who came up with the idea to collect blankets and sleeping bags for the homeless and needy a handful of years ago. Although he enlisted the help of the Bladen Journal to act as a collection point and was able to see the effort get started back in 2013, Grunder was tragically killed in a car accident before the collection effort was even a few weeks old.
“The staff of the Bladen Journal at that time, which had come to know Roger pretty well, decided to continue his vision and memorialize him by naming the effort for him,” Vincent said. “In many ways, the effort remains guided by Roger’s wish to help those in need — which always struck us as amazing, since Roger was also homeless.”
Grunder, who was well known around Elizabethtown from his volunteer work at the Bladen County Crisis Thrift Store, as well as his regular visits with downtown businesses, could often be seen sitting on a bench reading or riding his bicycle through town.
“He always seemed to be a good-natured guy who had a ready smile and joke for those he visited with,” Vincent said. “Our pizza lunches with Roger were usually filled with a lot of laughter because he never took himself too seriously. He had a really good heart.”
Just two days prior to his death, Grunder was saved and baptized at Open Door Ministries on N.C. 87 in Elizabethtown.
Over the first three years of the project, more than 450 items have been collected and distributed to those in need in Bladen County. The newspaper staff is hoping to eclipse the 200-item mark this time around.
“Roger’s Wish” will continue throughout the month of October, finishing up on Monday, Oct. 31. The items collected will then be given out to those in need on Friday, Nov. 4, at the Bladen Journal office from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Those wanting to contribute blankets and/or sleeping bags can bring them to the Bladen Journal office in downtown Elizabethtown between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Anyone with questions can call 910-862-4163.