Twenty-seven years after an unsuspecting trip to Russia, Severna Park resident Elfie Eberle is stepping down as branch manager of the Maryland branch of Orphan Grain Train (OGT) in Millersville.
She’s also not going anywhere.
According to its website, OGT is a “Christian volunteer network that ships donated food, clothing, medical and other needed items to people in 69 different countries including the USA.”
Eberle was first introduced to OGT in 1993 while visiting her daughter in Russia. Her daughter was teaching English as a second language. After learning more about the needs in St. Petersburg, Eberle returned to her home at the time, New York, determined to locate pediatric wheelchairs.
“I didn’t find a single pediatric wheelchair,” Eberle said, “but [I found] all kinds of other things.”
Deeply inspired by the available resources where she lived and also knowing the spectrum of need in Russia, Eberle coordinated with OGT headquarters, gathered a board, and founded the New York branch of OGT, where she stayed rooted until 2003 when she relocated to the Annapolis area. Eberle had no ambition to start another branch of OGT; however, after a three-year evolution of repeating familiar cycles, Eberle founded the Maryland branch in 2006.
OGT facilitates the movement of life-changing supplies from those who desire to give (donors) to those who need (recipients). From medical, surgical and dental supplies to office furniture, bicycles, and shoes and clothing, as well as supplies for school, sewing and hygiene, the most obvious need OGT has is space, a place to store the supplies until containers can be accessed, packed and shipped accordingly. Many businesses and organizations donated warehouse space for nine years until 2015 when the Maryland branch opened its own warehouse, now located on East West Boulevard in Millersville.
Year after year, Eberle has witnessed miracle after miracle, for which she gives repeated kudos to the people around her — and a lot of prayer.
“You meet the most wonderful people, giving people, caring people,” Eberle explained, “people that will go the extra mile to help someone else. It’s lovely to be around people like that, and it inspires you to do even more.”
Ron Phipps, assistant branch manager, has been volunteering alongside Eberle since 2006 and describes her as a leader who leads by example, as well as relentless passion and enthusiasm.
“She just wants to do the right thing,” Phipps said, “and that’s serve the needy … and of course they’re overseas and they are also here in the United States.”
Inheriting the reigns as branch manager is Jeff Piegols, whose role officially began June 1, 2020 after beginning the formal transition last fall.
“I’ve never had a transition before from one job to another that’s been so smooth and so endearing as the one with Elfie,” Piegols explained. “She just spends time with me and answers whatever questions I have. I can call her anytime and she helps me out with anything, and it’s wonderful. It’s as if she’s never left.”
In fact, because OGT is in Eberle’s blood, retiring from the work entirely isn’t possible for her. As long as she is able, she will continue to volunteer in some way. In the meantime, Eberle fondly reflects on the countless successes earmarked by this transition, as well as the many challenges.
“It has been a joy,” Eberle shared. “It has been such a joy. It’s hard work, I’m not denying that. And there are times where you say, ‘Oh my goodness, how am I ever going to do this?’ But the overriding emotion is joy because we have seen miracles.”
To learn more about OGT, including how to volunteer, visit www.ogt.org/branches/maryland.