(From left) Rev. Mark Whitlock of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church, Belinda Allen of West Angeles CDC, Ervin “Magic” Johnson, COGIC Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr., West Angeles First Lady Mae Blake, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Eula Smith of ES consulting and Rev. Kelvin Sauls of Holman United Methodist Church at the L.A. regional donation center at West Angeles Church of God in Christ, one of local many efforts to aid Houston-area victims of Hurricane Harvey. (Nathan Brown photo)

An unusual Labor Day celebration took place at West Angeles Church of God in Christ (COGIC) on Sept. 4, as Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. launched the first regional donation drive to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, Texas metropolitan area.

Scores of vehicles descended upon the church’s parking lot to drop off non-perishable food, bottled water, toiletries, diapers, baby formula, women’s sanitary products, new undergarments, new children’s clothing, new adult clothing, cleaning products, plastic garbage pails, plastic trash bags, shovels and tools.

Also, L.A. Lakers president Ervin “Magic” Johnson secured a donation of 300 pairs of shoes from a major manufacturer and superstar entertainer Stevie Wonder is publicizing the drive via his radio station, KJLH-FM.  Wonder and Johnson are longtime members of West Angeles COGIC.

Blake, presiding prelate of the Church of God in Christ, Inc., and pastor of West Angeles COGIC, spearheaded the campaign, which continues through Sept. 14.  Other supporters of the massive effort include COGIC Charities, the denomination’s benevolent arm, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Rev. Mark E. Whitlock of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church and the Rev. Kelvin Sauls of Holman United Methodist Church.

“I’m excited about the more than 200 volunteers who have joined with us today, taking precious holiday time – Labor Day – to labor for others and be a blessing to them. We had more than 50 cars in the first hour of our acceptance of goods and food materials for Houston and many individuals are giving cash donations, too,” said Blake, who explained that West Angeles is one of 20 COGIC regional collection centers across the nation.

The donated items will be loaded into semi-trucks Sept. 15-16 and transported to Houston.  Johnson worked with UPS, who agreed to provide the vehicles free of charge.  Upon arrival in the city, the items will be securely stored in a 20,000 sq. ft. warehouse that the denomination will use as a super resource center, where residents affected by the disaster will receive the donations and other assistance.

“We assure you that we are reaching out to the impacted individuals who need our help.  This money is not going to go into private hands or some unknown place.  It’s going to be used and I think the uniqueness of this effort is that it is direct from person-to-person, from church-to-person, from organization-to-individual,” noted Blake.

Applauding Blake’s leadership in the drive, Johnson said his participation in the collection drive reflects his pastor’s instructions to his members on a regular basis.

“Bishop always teaches us to lend a hand and reach back and give back. He called on all of us to help those who have been affected by [Hurricane] Harvey and we’re happy to just be a part of trying to make people down in Houston feel better and show them that we care,” said the NBA Hall of Famer.

Ridley-Thomas remarked that familial ties between Los Angeles and Houston inspire local people to contribute to the call for donations.

“Los Angeles is so large [that] I doubt that there is anybody standing here who doesn’t have family or associations in Houston. In many respects, this is spiritual, it’s government-related in terms of officials, but it’s also personal.  You can pick up a phone and call our family members to check on them and so consider this a large network of family reaching out to help others,” he said.

Both Whitlock of the AME Church and Sauls of the United Methodist Church crossed denominational lines to support Blake’s campaign.

“We’re just honored to receive the call from the great bishop of West Angeles Church of God in Christ as well as KJLH.  When they call, we haul.  We work together for the good. It’s not about denomination, but demonstration to help the least of these as Jesus has asked us to do,” stressed Whitlock.

Sauls added, “When the call went out, it was important for us to put ecumenical together with incarnational and to unleash a spiritual movement.  We are leveraging love and putting our compassion in action.”

Inviting the community to donate items, Blake insisted that the drive was not a “one-church” effort, but an opening to serve and help people devastated by the Houston-area floods.

“This gives us an opportunity to love and share and do so much more together than we can apart,” said Blake.  “I hope that we can stand against this uncaring, hateful violence that exists in our nation and turn a new page of peaceful togetherness and cooperative action.”