Church warehouse becomes storm relief hub

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

When Alabaster First United Methodist Church Pastor Brian Erickson held the church’s first service in the former Winn Dixie supermarket building off Alabama 119, he had no idea the building would soon be used as a vessel to help those in dire need.

The church held its first worship service in the “Restore” building in early April, a few weeks before a tornado outbreak devastated several parts of the state. Like many churches, Alabaster Methodist began collecting donations and asking for volunteers soon after the storms struck.

“That Sunday after the storms marked the one-year anniversary of our capital campaign, and I had planned to give a sermon about how important that was and how much we had accomplished in the past year,” Erickson said. “But I threw all of that out when the storms hit.”

The church began its storm relief efforts like many other churches, but soon began utilizing a unique part of its facilities.

Because the Restore worship center does not occupy all of the former Winn Dixie, the church still had about 25,000-square-feet of vacant space. The old supermarket was ideally set up to house large amounts of donations and allow the church to ship out truckloads at a time to those in need, Erickson said.

“A month after we moved into the place, we had 25,000 feet of storage space completely full of donations,” Erickson said. “I never thought it would work out like that.”

Because of Alabaster Methodist’s storage space, many other area churches, and even those with no church affiliation, began flooding Restore with donations.

“It’s been a real eye-opening experience,” Erickson said. “We have had people with no church affiliation coming in every week donating stuff and asking how they could help.

“We’ve been shipping stuff to Pleasant Grove, Concord, Hackleburg and places like that,” Erickson added.

In addition to local help, Alabaster Methodist has also been receiving donations from different parts of the country.

“The other day, we had a truck come in from Rockford, Illinois. It was full of brand new shoes and generators, you name it,” Erickson said. “Nestle also shipped us 1,800 cases of bottled water.

“It’s been awesome to see the response not only right here, but from all over the country,” he added, noting the church shipped out two packed 18-wheeler trailers full of donations on May 18.

Erickson praised the church’s volunteers for quickly learning how to operate equipment usually found in an industrial warehouse.

“Most of the people who came to help didn’t have any idea what to do when they first got here. But they have really been doing a great job as far as learning how everything works quickly,” Erickson said, noting Specification Rubber donated 180 pallets and Toyota loaned the church a forklift.

“Right now, we are using the unfinished part of the building more than the finished part,” Erickson added with a laugh.