ELIZABETHTOWN — The first question came back in June, when a caller asked, “when are y’all going to start collecting blankets?”
The caller was asking, of course, about the annual Roger’s Wish project by the Bladen Journal, a month-long effort to collect blankets and sleeping bags for the county’s homeless and needy.
As most already know, the project was the brainchild of Roger Grunder, a local man who spent the final 19 years of his life homeless — by choice. He was often a fixture in the downtown Elizabethtown area, often spending sunny days on a bench reading or volunteering at the Bladen Crisis Thrift Shop.
In the summer of 2013, Grunder began talking with folks at the Bladen Journal about a blanket and sleeping bag drive to benefit the area’s homeless and needy. He, with the newspaper’s help, kicked the effort off just weeks before Grunder was killed in a car accident — literally hours after he had accepted Christ into his heart and was baptized.
“He told me at the start of the first year how blown away he was that people were so generous,” Roger’s sister Maria said this week. “He thought 10 or so blankets would have been good and we already had 30 or 40.”
When Grunder was killed, the newspaper staff made the decision to continue his vision — and Roger’s Wish was officially born.
Since then, the effort has continued to grow — and, thanks to word of mouth and Facebook, blankets have been received from as far away as New York and Florida.
”He would be most honored,” his sister said. “He really wouldn’t believe how long its gone and grown so much.
“Even when the hurricane hit (last October), people were still giving and that’s something,” she added. “Bladen County really does have a heart.”
Roger’s Wish actually benefited many in the region — from Bladen to Robeson and Columbus counties who were severely affected by Hurricane Matthew.
Throughout the month of October, folks can drop off new or gently used blankets and sleeping bags at the Bladen Journal office Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
This is a good opportunity for church groups, youth groups, school groups, company groups, etc. to participate in a month-long challenge to collect blankets and sleeping bags.
And every step of the way, there are those who feel as if Grunder continues to have a hand in the program.
“Even as cliche as it may seem, I really think Roger is watching over this,” Maria said. “His whole family and his friends all feel that way.
“It’s taught me how one person’s dream, wanting to do good, can become reality,” she added.
Jeffrey Bryan of White Oak, a friend of Grunder’s joined a handful of others who have donated to Roger’s Wish early. The effort is beginning with more than 20 items.
Anyone who needs information about Roger’s Wish can call 910-862-4163 during regular business hours.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or email@example.com.