Rev. Andy Phiri is returning to Zambia in September, so the St. Giles parish associate decided to bring a few items back to his home diocese of Chipata. To ship several computers and other items from Oak Park to southern Africa, he asked the St. Giles Men’s Club for help.

He got more than he bargained for.

On Saturday, in the St. Giles parking lot on Columbian Avenue, about 50 members of the men’s group, plus kids, packed a 40-foot-long shipping container to the gills. Loaded in were church pews (the parish had already raised money to build a church in Chipata), computers, books, clothes, food items and other donations collected over the last six weeks – a total of 600 boxes.

Brent Showalter, a member of the men’s group’s leadership council, said they told Father Phiri it wouldn’t cost that much more to go the container route. So they put out an e-mail to their membership, which Showalter says went viral. In three weeks, they easily exceeded their goal of selling 150 shares at $100 each to cover the $15,000 cost of buying the container and shipping it. In fact, they ended up with a total of $18,000.

“I was amazed how much people were willing to give in such a difficult climate,” Showalter said.

They’ll likely use the extra money to buy medical supplies. People are even talking about the possibility of a second container, Showalter said.

The container, which left Tuesday morning, will take about two months to get to Zambia (rail to New Orleans, boat to Mozambique, truck to Chipata), where it will become a building in the village with windows cut into the sides.

Showalter said the St. Giles Men’s Club started out as a social group, meeting at FitzGerald’s Nightclub to watch ballgames. “Then we decided we needed to do more than that.”

They did more than they bargained for.

-Ken Trainor

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