It started out as a way to recycle medical equipment. There is no market in the United States for used equipment, and it’s usually destroyed. So Dr. David Vanderpool, a surgeon at Baylor hospital, started a recycling program sending used equipment to the Ukraine, where hospitals are comparatively primitive. Vanderpool and his wife, Margie, traveled to the Ukraine to deliver the equipment, and they happened to visit an orphanage there. It was a heart-rending experience.
“These children have nothing,” David Vanderpool says. “They were sleeping on mattresses that were so old, they sloped in the middle.” That’s not good for developing spines, so their first mission was to outfit the orphanage with new beds. They included their church, and now members of Skillman Church of Christ have made Korlavka orphanage their pet project.
They collect clothes and shoes for the children all year, and they take mission trips to deliver donations and offer Bible lessons. On the fourth Tuesday of each month, a group of ladies — many of whom are in their 90s — gather at the Vanderpool home to have lunch together and work for the orphans. Last month, they packed Christmas boxes. Each one contains items that most American kids would hardly notice: pencils, sticky notes, paddle games, shampoo, miniature candy bars, new white socks. For the kids at Korlavka, those are great treasures.
David Vanderpool tells a story from their second trip to the Ukraine. One little boy took Margie by the hand — they didn’t share a common language, but it was clear he had something to show her. He took her to the dormitory, and pulled the drawer out from under his new bed to show her what was his: a pillow.“He was so proud of that, to have something that belonged to him,” Vanderpool says.
Church members also have donated a gym, so the children have an outlet for exercise and play during the long Ukraine winters. They send medicine, including anti-viral drugs for kids with HIV. And their medical equipment mission continues. But the Christmas boxes, simple as they are, inspire the volunteers.
Lela Faye Tidwell, a Skillman Church of Christ member who has worked on the orphanage project for several years, says the Christmas boxes make her holidays brighter.“I’ve had better Christmases since we started,” she says. “Christmas is about children, and it’s better when you have children to think about.”