In Wilmington, Ohio, a town of 12,000 people where 8,000 had been employed by DHL, a series of extensive layoffs at the shipping company have left the community experiencing what has been called the trauma of Hurricane Katrina without the physical damage.
The two Southern Baptists churches in Wilmington are scurrying to meet needs wherever they can.
Years ago, Wilmington was home to an Air Force base that closed and was rehabilitated into the headquarters for Airborne Express, a shipping company that ranked just behind UPS and FedEx. In 2003, the Germany-based DHL bought Airborne, but the venture struggled, and with the economic crash of last year, DHL began laying people off by the hundreds.
Now workers in the town who gave decades of their lives to the shipping industry are finding themselves unemployed, unable to pay tuition bills and seeing their homes foreclosed, according to a segment on CBS' "60 Minutes" Jan. 25.
"I remember people with scarves breathing through ice in just unreal (temperatures), … eyelashes frozen, and I started in '81. And when you worked, you worked. Why weren't we bailed out?" Morris Deufemia, a former employee, told CBS in describing the harsh conditions the workers endured to make sure people received their packages on time.
Dennis Humphreys has been pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Wilmington for 17 years, arriving in the town when Airborne was flourishing. Now he is encountering in fellow residents the emotions associated with a failed business.
"We've seen that kind of frustration because they were the largest employer," Humphreys told Baptist Press (BP). "That's where lots of people worked. That's been the hardest thing because it was a foreign company coming in and taking over an American company based right here."
In his church of about 200 people, Humphreys said about 30 families had been employed by DHL.
Surprisingly, Humphreys said none of his church members have moved to other towns yet in search of employment. One church member told him he got a job in Lexington, Ky., but wasn't necessarily going to move because his new employer is letting him work a four-day week given the long commute. The man said he was waiting to see if that plan would work for his family.
"A couple other families have begun to put resumes out and that type of thing, and they're just waiting to see what God does or what doors God opens," Humphreys said. "People have gotten other jobs already in the area. We've been taking it a day at a time and praying for one another and helping each other where we can. That's pretty much how we've been handling it.
"Everybody has been very upbeat and most people have just said, 'God's allowing us to go through this, so we're just going to take it a day at a time and let Him lead us through it.' That's kind of the attitude that the majority of our people anyway have taken," the pastor said.
Calvary has been collecting coats, hats and gloves for children this winter as more families find it harder to provide for basic needs.
At Immanuel Baptist Church in Wilmington, church members are collecting food for a pantry they've opened to people in the community who are struggling financially in the wake of the layoffs.
"We're trying to help them be able to take some of their grocery money and apply it to other bills," the church's pastor, Wayne Woody, told BP. "We're a smaller church, so we can't help directly financially, but we try to help out any way possible, and we found that a food pantry is one way of doing it. I've passed on information to anybody that would like to get in with Crown Financial Resources to help with budgeting and lifestyle changes."
Immanuel has 15-20 families, Woody said, and at least a third of them are directly affected by the layoffs.
"Just for curiosity's sake, I went on to one of the major search engines for job postings, monster.com, and searched for any job listings in the Wilmington area for a 20-mile radius," Woody said. "There were only six jobs posted for the Wilmington area, and they were management positions."
As a local pastor, Woody said he tries to make Immanuel a place where people can seek refuge in uncertain times.
"We've talked about how this seems like a very big bump in the road, but it is just a small bump in the road in comparison to life, and God's going to continue us on that path when the road gets a little bumpy," he said. "We've tried to minister individually and do our worship services and try to put a positive outlook on all the things that are going on in society right now.
"But with the loss of a lot of jobs, that really hits home quicker than anything else, so we try to be an uplifting ministry as much as we can."
"I keep telling people to keep looking upward. A lot of times we have a tendency as our human nature to look forward, but when we're talking about wanting God-sized miracles, we've got to be looking upward," he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.)