Where Dreams Come True

I turn in the wrong direction, I find the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid’s (HRCA) warehouse in Ebes with difficulty. Anyway, usually only people who know the way come here. It is cold and I am afraid that the weather will only get a few degrees warmer in the warehouse. At the gate they are waiting with smiles on their face. At least the welcome is warm, I say myself before I enter the building. The space is bright, the donations are neatly waiting to be wrapped, the people are nice, smiling and, of course, the ‘weather’ is good. I feel like I've stepped into Santa's factory.

“Come and have a look around,” invites me kindly Gergely Iszlai, the operational manager of the HRCA’s office in Debrecen, who also coordinates the work in the warehouse. He guides me from the lobby into a large hall where volunteers are feverishly packing and sorting the gifts which are on the wishlist. Moving on, we arrive at the loading area of the warehouse, where Imre Balázs welcomes me with a smile from a forklift truck, his smile only visible in his eyes, as he is wearing a mask. “Imre is one of our most reliable and enthusiastic colleagues,” says the operations manager, and the forklift truck driver laughs. “Don't believe everything they say,” he warns.

“How long have you worked here?” I ask. “I don’t count, maybe three years. I don't keep track of it because I love this job,” he says, and his eyes are shining in the meantime, not just smiling: “There is a family atmosphere here, we all know each other and we're a good team! It means a lot to me to know that what I do is helping others, whether packing or delivering donations or even cleaning. I would like to retire from here.”

Iszlai Gergely

Fotó: HRCA

Warehouse of Love

The logistics centre in Ebes was completed about a year and a half ago. “We haven't measured it exactly, but it can hold about five hundred cubic metres of truckloads of goods,” says Gergely Iszlai, as I admire the huge ceiling height and the many neatly arranged donations on the shelves. The heated room protects the food from freezing in the winter months, and there is also a packing room where donation fulfilling children's wishes are neatly lined up. In total, three public sector workers are employed at the centre, plus a varying number of volunteers, three of whom now wrap and sort the gifts.

“An empty warehouse is a good warehouse, but we are glad that it is full at this time of year, because then we know, we have something to offer to those in need. At the moment we are expecting 30 tons of non-perishable food, which will be stored here for a while,” says the operational manager.


Fotó: HRCA

Helping in Various Forms

The most significant period in the life of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid is the Advent and New Year period. During this time, several of our programmes are running at the same time. This year, children can fulfil their Christmas wishes on the relatively new online wish list, and the Nyilas Misi shoebox campaign, the collection of boxes filled with charity items, the firewood program and also financial support for the work of HRCA have been launched again. “Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the number of people asking for support has increased noticeably, and this year the programs aim to help around 10,000 people in some way.”

“We are at the halftime of the campaign at the beginning of December, and there are areas where the amount of donations has we have received so far, and the number of people who want to help exceeds all our expectations. We are even struggling in some areas,” says Annamária Győri-Simon, Head of the Donations Coordination at HRCA.

All the Advent programs are running on high speed, the charity boxes have arrived at almost all collection points and families will receive them before the weekend prior to Christmas. Some food is already coming to Ebes: in the warehouse, it has already been distributed alongside the children's gifts to ensure that the assistance is continuous and seamless.

This year, HRCA has advertised the Nyilas Misi campaign primary in the congregations, so the exact number of shoeboxes will only be known after the holiday. The boxes collected, but not distributed in the congregations will be offered to Hungarian children abroad.

“Unfortunately, many are currently forced into quarantine, so we are extending the deadline of our Wishlist program beyond the originally planned date. So far, a little less than 2000 wishes have been fulfilled. Originally, the campaign was to run until 30 November, but we have decided to extend it until 12 December. But in December, we only receive financial support, and no more in kind donation. This makes logistics easier,” says Annamária Győri-Simon. According to her experience, it is important for the people to give, so they need to be offered the opportunity to help during Advent season.” The firewood campaign will also be launched in the Advent season, although at the beginning it is mainly financial donations that are expected, the wood will be purchased and distributed at the beginning of the New Year.

As we talk and walk around the warehouse, Annamari also says that this year the depot is even more important, as all the background work for the Wish List programme is being done here. Even before the logistics centre was established, the local warehouse was busy, so the Ebes office had and still has the same level of sophistication as the well-known one in Budapest, underlines the Head of the Donation Coordination Unit of HRCA. She adds that belonging to the HRCA’s office in Debrecen or volunteering here is a blessing and a great opportunity for everyone.


Fotó: HRCA

Great Blessing

After talking to Annamari, I walk to the collection point where the gifts dedicated to the disadvantaged children’s Christmas wishlist. It's magical just to look at. The child in me would immediately unwrap the beautifully wrapped gifts, but I behave and ask instead one of the volunteers how they know how to sort the personalised gifts. She points to a seemingly indecipherable series of numbers that are on the labels of each item. “The code starts with the postcode, followed by the name of the person making the wish come true and the child's identification number who made the wish. When a large box is filled with gifts for a particular municipality, it will be dispatched,” the volunteer says. Barbi also says they come to the warehouse every week to work. When they arrive, the gifts are already here, and then the sorting begins. They use an online platform developed by HRCA and they record each parcel before labelling them. As we talk, the hustle and bustle is accompanied by soft conversation, and sometimes a louder laugh in the background. “It's a very good atmosphere here,” says Barbi with a smile. “I really like working here. We have a small team of all ages, and it is so nice for example to listen to the stories of the older people. While sorting the children's gifts, we sometimes wonder where the children whose we only know the names, live and imagine how happy they will be when they receive their parcels placed under the Christmas tree. All this fills us with gratitude. I can say on behalf of every volunteer that we are happy to be here, because we are given tasks that do not feel like work. I think that's what they call voluntary service.”

Adomány a családnak

Fotó: HRCA

Place of Gratitude

Nearing the end of the morning, I have been amazed, admiring and talking, and my heart was filled with gratitude. I'm leaving the warehouse door, but I'm not saying goodbye to the team: we are visiting a family for whom the HRCA staff is delivering not only food - in a box - but also firewood. The destination is a house in the outskirts in Debrecen. Ágnes, who lives in one of the old houses with her four children, welcomes the "green angels". The environment shows that the conditions the family live in, are not only difficult; they seem unbearable to me. Yet Ágnes smiles. “We get help, thank God. I raise the children alone, but their dad and the grandparents help me out. I'm with the youngest now. He is seven months old,” she says. She first heard about the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid through a friend, and although she was hesitant, even scared, still she contacted the organisation. Thanks to the recent plumbing they have running water in the house. “I had to pay a lot for the work, so this donation means even more,” she explains gratefully, while Gergely Iszlai is already bringing the box. As I look at the family, a bit of bitterness creeps into my heart along with gratitude. It is strange to have these two feelings side by side. Gergely's words echo in me. “An empty warehouse is a good warehouse, but we are glad that it is full at this time of year, because then we know, we have something to offer to those in need.”

Translated by Bence András Szabó