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Church giveaway 'like a dream' for needy
Stafford church's annual outreach 'looks like a dream,' provides clothes for more than 1,000 people

 Volunteer Mike Kearney lives in a tent and wants to lend a hand because the church has helped him.
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Date published: 10/24/2010

BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE

Before he left Jordan for a new life in the United States, Jalal Salman watched a movie about life in America.

The movie, shown as part of culture orientation, promised English classes and jobs for refugees.

But when Salman came to Stafford County two years ago, he faced a much different reality.

It took the Iraqi refugee nine months to find a job, and he struggled to learn English.

Standing in the lobby of Mount Ararat Baptist Church yesterday, Salman said he saw part of the America he'd been promised.

At the church's annual clothing giveaway, area residents stuffed black trash bags with free items.

Around overflowing tables, lifelong Stafford residents and people who sleep in five-bedroom houses mingled with refugees from Nepal and people who sleep in tents.

"It only happens in this country, that people would give away clothing," Salman said. "Everyone says, 'Hi, how are you?' or asks, 'How can I help you?' It looks like a dream."

For three years, the North Stafford church has given clothes to anyone who shows up. This year, that was more than 1,000 people.

"We're not trying to get people to come to our church," said the Rev. Todd Gaston, associate pastor at Mount Ararat. "We just want to give them hope in a hopeless time."

Church members started the event three years ago to help people struggling in a falling economy. At first, all of the donated clothes came from church members.

But now others remember the event and bring things to give away. Sometimes people who received clothes one year come back to donate the next, said Mount Ararat member Mike Hawkins.

The donated bounty arrived last Sunday in four trailers. About 100 volunteers set up tables and racks in two days, said Susan Rogers, who oversaw the preparations.

Mike Kearney was one of the most dedicated volunteers, spending six days getting ready.

"I have it pretty comfortable," Kearney said. "What God gives to you, you've got to give back to the public. I don't see just take, take, take and not give."

Kearney's "pretty comfortable" life is in a tent in Stafford County. He attends Mount Ararat every Sunday and jumped at the chance to help at the clothing giveaway.

"They've done so much for me, and God has, so I guess I'd feel guilty if I didn't give back," Kearney said.

Joseph Will picked up some clothes for his 3-year-old daughter who's "growing out of everything; we can't keep up."

His little girl lives with her grandmother. Will and his wife live in an area motel, barely able to pay for the room. He said the clothes will be a big help.

"We're struggling every day, but God's opening doors here and there, everywhere," Will said. "Everything's a blessing."

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973
Email: aumble@freelancestar.com