Kim Wilson was packing for a 10-day mission to Mozambique when she wondered if there was anything she could bring for the Christian missionaries who were already there.
She asked around, and at first the missionaries were too humble to request anything. Then they called back and said they could use a few things:
Rolls of transparent tape.
Washable polyester shower curtains.
Extra nosepieces for eyeglasses (the plastic bits turn green in the south African heat).
Baby formula, for the mothers with malaria who could not nurse. Insulated sippy cups. Vicks VapoRub and other toiletries not readily available overseas.
Puppets and a dome tent for the children's ministry.
Tootsie Rolls and baseball cards for missionary kids who missed home. And of course, some chocolate chips.
Wilson crammed the items into her two suitcases. And when she came back from her 2003 trip, a new mission was born.
Wilson and her husband, Dave, run the God's Share Program, which sends supplies and creature comforts to missionaries working around the world. The couple rely on donations and sales from their thrift shop to help make missionaries' work — and lives — a little easier.
"They feel isolated, away from their friends and family," Kim Wilson said.
She started small, storing items in the back of a Tampa warehouse to send to a few missionaries she knew from her old church in Ohio. She connected with other missionaries through Facebook and word of mouth, and has since helped more than 150 families. She keeps meticulous records and databases showing names, birthdays, interests and other information that will help her serve their needs.
Two years ago the operation moved into a 2,500-square-foot building in Zephyrhills, which includes a thrift store, an inventory room for local missionaries and space for preparing care packages going overseas.
God's Share Program receives support from individuals as well as a couple of local churches. Often people would rather donate items for the thrift store than give money. One man brings in five or six boxes a month filled with new, quality toiletries — items mostly acquired for free using rebates and coupons.
About a dozen volunteers help with various parts of the effort. Some are in charge of sending birthday, anniversary and get-well cards to missionaries. One volunteer sells some of the nicer donated goods on eBay. Others sort clothing. Wilson said she tries to put people into jobs matching their gifts or talents.
"The work never ends. It increases, but it's a good increase," said Dave Wilson, who has devoted his time to the God's Share Program since the economy tanked and his faux-finish painting business dried up.
He said they sometimes get wrapped up in the nitty-gritty of the operation. Then they hear from the people they are helping, and their inspiration is renewed.
They recently sent pencils and writing pads to missionaries in Uganda, who shared the gifts and the Gospel with local students.
"It really encouraged me to see the photos they e-mailed us," Dave Wilson said. "I sometimes wonder: Are we having an effect, are we making a difference? The fact of the matter is we are making a difference in many, many ways."
Kim Wilson will bring school supplies when she goes to the Dominican Republic this summer. She's also visited Guatemala, while her husband has gone to South Korea and countries throughout Central America and the Caribbean.
The couple belongs to Zephyrhills First Assembly, which is not affiliated with God's Share Program.
Karen Harden of Zephyrhills is a volunteer who takes fliers to churches to spread the word about God's Share Program. Sometimes she meets the missionaries or gets to read their letters.
"One letter brought me to tears," Harden said.
A family — mother, father and two kids — were in the field and the God's Share Program sent them a Christmas package.
"In our opinion it was a small box, but to them it was huge," said Harden, adding that simple things like microwave popcorn can mean so much.
One missionary in the field needed diabetic testing strips, and soon after, a box of donations arrived to the Zephyrhills thrift shop. They looked inside, and to their amazement, someone had donated testing strips.
"Inside that package will be just the thing they needed," Harden said. "God has answered those prayers immediately."