"What are we going to do with all these shirts?" was the first thought that went through Kevin Funk's mind when he learned that the banking giant would soon be changing its name from "Washington Mutual" to "WaMu."
WaMu's branding change had suddenly rendered thousands of units of company apparel — mostly button-up shirts and cardigans — useless, and Funk, the manager of WaMu store apparel, thought it was wasteful to destroy them. However, because the shirts identify the wearer as a WaMu employee, security and risk management concerns prevented them from being donated in the United States. In Funk's search for an appropriate outlet for the shirts, he contacted Mercy Corps' Material Aid department, which facilitates material donations.
"It's not as easy as you'd think to give something like this away," said Funk, "so Mercy Corps was a huge help in getting the shirts into the hands of those abroad who could use them."
Mercy Corps' Material Aid department was able to place nearly 30,000 shirts by working closely with field teams in Mongolia and Guatemala, and with partners in El Salvador and Ukraine. The shirts were provided to needy families in El Salvador, low-income job seekers in Ukraine and to poor individuals participating in environmental clean-up efforts in Mongolia.
In Guatemala, the success of Mercy Corps' programs is due to the overwhelming support of community volunteers. Carlos Aquino, a Program Manager, saw a sample of one of the shirts, and thought they would be an ideal uniform.
Aquino and his team received nearly 7,000 tan-colored shirts, covered the original logo with a patch and embroidered the Mercy Corps logo and the word "volunteer" on all of them. Shirts were provided as uniforms to all 6,807 community volunteers, as both a thank-you gift and a means to identify volunteers as part of the Mercy Corps team.
Mercy Corps' programs in Guatemala — from raising HIV/AIDS awareness to improving agricultural practices — depend on the work of people like Hermanino Ramírez, a community leader in Cobán.
Ramírez has spent countless hours working with his community to increase household incomes through improved agricultural practices. Ramírez, like all Mercy Corps Guatemala's community volunteers, has been a pioneer in promoting new knowledge, attitudes and practices.
Local volunteers like Ramírez, most of whom are ethnic Q'eqchi', fill a variety of vital roles — they may be members of health commissions, basic health workers, midwives, agricultural leaders or youth working to raise awareness among peers about the transmission of HIV/AIDS. All contribute to the development of their communities by donating time, experience and resources.
"The shirts distinguish us as volunteers and make us feel like members of the Mercy Corps family," said Ramírez.