By Mike Kinney
A 20-foot-long shipping container filled with donations to support the Tongan relief effort departed from a Richmond church on Saturday.
Packed with supplies donated by members of Methodist churches around the Bay Area and as far as Reno, the container is scheduled to leave the Port of Oakland on Feb. 26 with an estimated arrival date of March 26-29.
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church at 3200 Barrett Ave. spearheaded the effort last month to donate non-perishable foods and supplies to the island nation that was devastated by a massive undersea volcanic eruption on Jan. 15.
Mesake Joji, a Fijian lay leader of the church, spent $4,950 for the 20-foot container. Church members spent about $30,000 of their own money to purchase supplies and donations, according to Rev. Ofa Ha’unga of St. Luke’s.
Supplies varied from pantry items, such as flour, sugar, rice, pasta, canned foods, along with cooking utensils, blankets, sheets, towels, toiletries, clothes and even rugs and curtains for homes. Working tools, like shovels, rakes, gloves, and also cleaning supplies, are also on their way to Tonga.
The contributions came from churches in Richmond, including Easter Hill UMC, Open Door UMC, and Greater El Bethel Baptist Church, along with Santa Rosa UMC, the United Methodist Women, Reno UMC, Faith UMC in Sacramento, Albany UMC, Sierra Pines UMC in Grass Valley and San Rafael UMC.
“There have been many individuals who have called me and dropped off their donations at here St. Luke’s United Methodist Church,” Rev. Ha’unga said.
St. Luke’s member Lute Leisi, who grew up in Tonga and has family there, said she was humbled by the opportunity to support the effort and contributed $3,000. Gigi Lee drove from her home in Benecia to drop off donations.
As he was dropping off donations on Thursday, Feb. 18, Richmond resident Chuck Foster from Easter Hill UMC said, “It’s important that we all believe in sharing and giving.”
“We are all here to help make a difference to the people of Tonga,” Foster added.
Pastor Suzanne Calhoun of Sierra Pines UMC noted the power of the United Methodist Church connection around the world in supporting people in need during disaster.
Lay minister Joji said helping others is a blessing.
“I wanted to share this blessing of being able to get the shipping container for the Tongan relief effort,” he said.