The 53-foot-long trucks rolled south from Pennsylvania and took a hard right turn off Interstate 75 toward a drafty, cavernous warehouse in Hudson that God had selected for a momentous charitable event.
At least that's how the Rev. Jim Campbell saw things.
"It's all about having a little faith,'' said the 65-year-old pastor of the Prayer House, a few miles from the yellow warehouse off Denton Avenue.
By Friday afternoon, those trucks had delivered 40,000 large wool blankets to Campbell, who in turn gave them to church groups, homeless centers, hospices, schools and organizations like the Red Cross. Campbell and his handful of volunteers got the word out across neighboring counties through Facebook and other social media.
"This couldn't come at a better time,'' said Campbell, exhausted from the week but proud and satisfied he managed to pull off something so big. "It's starting to get cold and there are many, many people who will make good use of these blankets.''
Watching the joy among those who hauled away blankets, Campbell must have considered the contrast to where this all began. In March, he stood with his nine younger siblings and dozens of other relatives to mourn the loss of his mother, Alvis Campbell, in Hazard, Ky. An old friend asked about his work in Florida, and Campbell described his ROPE Center, a transitional facility in Hudson for people down on their luck. The acronym means Resource, Outreach, Prayer, Endowment.
"What do y'all need?" the friend asked.
"Well, we could use some blankets," Campbell answered.
"How many do you want?"
"I don't know … a bunch."
Some time later, Campbell got a call from his friend, who outlined a U.S. Department of Defense program that provides blankets and other materials to nonprofit organizations that help the poor and displaced. Campbell filled out some forms. He figured he'd get some blankets, but 40,000?
"I'm telling you,'' said Campbell, who is also president of the Homeless Coalition of Pasco, "that's a lot of blankets."
They came out of Northwest Woolen Mills in Woonsocket, R.I., one of the few remaining woolen mills in the country. Paulette Butler, sales and marketing director, said the blankets are made with "preconsumer recycled materials,'' and are shipped to government depots for distribution. She said each blanket costs about $6. So, not counting shipping, this 40,000 load cost about $240,000.
You might ask why such an ambitious project would originate in one of the smaller Tampa Bay area communities — with the pastor of an interdenominational church that has only two dozen regulars and the rest homeless folks. After his fourth day of back-breaking work and paying several hundred dollars for forklifts, Campbell offered an answer: "Maybe I'm crazy.''
"This is typical of Jim,'' said Linda Shields, who has worked with Campbell and his wife, Sue, for three years. "He just gets things done.''
At the ROPE Center on Rhodes Road, Campbell and others give shelter and food while requiring straight behavior, chores and an aggressive job search. It opened in 2009 with ambition to serve 24 men and women in separate dorms. Now Campbell, who is also a general contractor, is ready to expand the facility with 56 beds.
He also has a vision for the county-owned warehouse where even 40,000 blankets stacked on pallets filled only a tiny amount of the overall space.
"The blankets are a start,'' he said. "My goal is to fill this place with materials and goods to share with people who need help in several counties.
"All it takes is a little faith.''