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Samaritan's Purse playing major role in Ukrainian relief, sending supplies weekly from North Carolina

The North Carolina Christian organization has flown 300 metric tons of supplies to eastern Europe.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — At 164,000 square feet - bigger than three football fields - the Samaritan's Purse warehouse in North Wilkesboro is impressive, both in size and mission.

"Help people and do it in the name of Jesus Christ," Franklin Graham said.

For more than five decades, the Christian organization has responded to disasters across the country and the globe, providing supplies, medical care and hope.

"We want people to know that God loves them and cares for them," Graham said. "If you get hit with a storm in life, sometimes people think God is mad at us and I want them to know that's not true, that God loves us and cares for us."

Graham has been at the helm of Samaritan's Purse for years. The son of famed Evangelist Billy Graham, Franklin said the group's focus right now is helping people in Ukraine.

"There is some danger but that's not going to stop you from doing what we do because everything we do, there's always an element of danger because we're working in storms, we're working in war areas, places where there's just upheaval, and that's just part of the job," Graham said.

It's also, a major job at this point. Samaritan's Purse flies its DC-8 jet from its home at PTI airport in Greensboro to eastern Europe every five days to drop off supplies and rotate staff. To date, they've airlifted 300 metric tons of supplies over 13 flights. The airplane unloads cargo in Poland and another team trucks it across the Ukrainian border. The primary cargo right now is medical supplies for its 50-bed field hospital. A replica of the hospital, set up in the warehouse, gives you an idea of its abilities.

"This is the emergency room or the ER module," explained Dr. Elliott Tenpenny, Director of Samaritan's Purse's international health unit during a tour of the facility. "You'll see four different beds fully equipped with oxygen, with patient monitors, with ultrasound, with X-ray."

Shy of brain surgery, they're able to do just about any medical procedure here. Medical staff like Dr. Tenpenny work around the clock, never knowing who will need help next.

"Sometimes we see war trauma, patients that come in straight from the front lines," Tenpenny said. "A lot of what we saw initially in Ukraine were the displaced population coming by train."

They're able to serve as many as 200 patients a day. They've had lots of practice.

"If you go out to a hurricane like we did in the Bahamas two years ago, you're going to learn a lot of different things when you go to New York City in COVID-19," Tenpenny reflected. "We've had the opportunity to go all around the world and learn a lot of lessons."

Speed is the name of the game when it comes to responding to a disaster. The field hospital can be on a plane in a matter of hours.

"We're one of the fastest in the world at this point," Tenpenny said.

Impressive, considering staff is coming from all over. "These people live normal lives all over the US," Tenpenny said. "They work normal jobs, hospital jobs or as engineers, whatever it might be, and when the disaster happens, they're activated and they go to serve in these areas."

READ: more about Samaritan's Purse's response in Ukraine

"In this situation, we're doing quite a few different projects," said Kelly Suter, an emergency medical response specialist at Samaritan's Purse. "It's all hands on deck."

The medical response provides medical supplies to about 40 Ukrainian hospitals. "We have a team there that takes everything we send, they organize it into different hospital kits and then they push those into the areas in need," Suter said.

Also, onboard each flight, are thousands of backpacks for the kids they encounter, filled with basic writing supplies, hygiene kits and a teddy bear. Franklin Graham himself has gone to Ukraine twice since the war began, to meet with church leaders.

"You shouldn't ask people to go into a war zone or something like that and you don't go yourself, so you've got to go where you send your people," Graham said.

On his most recent trip, he contracted COVID-19, even though he's vaccinated and boosted. "It was like a cold and I was fatigued for a couple of days, just real tired."

He's doing much better now but the pandemic has certainly impacted their operation. At one point, Graham said half their staff was sick. 

No matter what, the mission continues, for all sorts of reasons.

"I want to spend my life doing good," Suter said. "I want to spend any time or talent that I have helping people around me."

"The reason I do this is to share the hope of Christ with people all over the world who are suffering and hurting," Tenpenny added.

A sentiment shared by Graham and the 130 other Samaritan's Purse workers on the ground in Ukraine.

"Their country is being torn apart and to be there with them and let them know that we care for them and love them, and we're there to help them," Graham said.

Franklin Graham said Samaritan's Purse will be involved in Ukraine for as long as needed.

The organization bought a second plane that'll be in service later this year to do even more work around the globe.

The group does lots of work in the United States, too.

In early May, it deployed to Rockingham County after a tornado touched down. Volunteers helped with cleanup and chaplains helped people in need.

Last year alone, Samaritan's Purse deployed 10,000 volunteers to U.S. disasters.

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