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OK, now send your Campbell’s labels to Jack Little instead of Debbie

TAHOE, Calif. (BP)–It was tucked into her Christmas cards in 1994. Along with her mass-produced story-of-my-life letter that year, Debbie Wohler, a resort missionary in Tahoe, Calif., sent a plea for … soup labels.
Wohler explained in her note sent to a hundred or so friends and family members that one of the ministries at her church — a licensed before- and after-school ministry — needed a new van to transport the kids to and from school each day. Their little church couldn’t possibly purchase one and their ministry was shoestring budget at best. So she’d decided to save enough Campbell’s soup labels to get a free van.
It was a good idea, but she needed 1,095,000 labels. That’s a lot of noodles.
However, having good, supportive friends, Wohler began receiving occasional packages of cut and semi-cut labels.
The next Christmas her annual letter reported they were up to a whopping 68,000 labels. At that rate, her grandkids might get to ride in that van someday — which meant it would be awhile, since she doesn’t even have kids, let alone grandkids, because she’s not even married.
But Wohler wasn’t discouraged by this less-than-stellar result. She truly believed God was in the plan.
That January, she figured out that if 1,000 churches sent 1,000 labels each, she’d have a million labels. She wrote letters to all the state Baptist editors and to all the state WMU directors, asking for their support.
The next Christmas card brought a better report: they had collected 530,000 labels. Two months later, the work in Tahoe was featured in the WMU Missions Mosaic magazine, with a short line mentioning they were saving labels.
“The floodgates were opened,” she recounted. The post office began making daily deliveries of packages of labels.
However, the order for the van had to be in by March 15 or, according to Campbell’s rules, couldn’t be ordered until the next October. One week before the deadline Wohler and her crew were 5,000 labels short.
Church members and ministry volunteers started praying for a miracle. They had never received 5,000 labels in a week. Just days before the deadline, a woman called from Sacramento, Calif., to tell them she had 10,000 labels. A school in her area had tried to save labels, but couldn’t get enough so they were going to throw them away. She had heard about the Tahoe project and wondered if they could use the labels.
Church members drove to Sacramento for the labels and mailed 34 boxes of cut, counted and bundled soup labels to Campbell’s. In August — just two and a half years after starting the project — the ministry received a brand-new green 15-passenger van.
The labels kept coming and a year later they ordered their second 15-passenger van.
This past summer a group of Acteens from LaGrange, Ga., worked with Debbie and the church for a week-long mission trip. A part of their job was to help work through the current bunch of labels.
In a giant Campbell’s soup can — about the size of a large outdoor garbage can — in the corner of the church basement, lay bags of the bright red labels. Cut, count and bundle these, they were directed.
They quickly discovered what the little church on the hill had taken on: a million labels was a whole bunch.
For a week members of the group cut, counted by 500s and bundled labels (and developed an immense appreciation for those who cut before they mailed). At the end of the week shoulders and elbows were sore from cutting and when they closed their eyes at night they could see red swirly letters spelling out “Campbell’s.” But at the end of the week, half a box of labels were all neatly lined in a row: 7,500 to be exact. A mere drop in the bucket.
But with innumerable such boxes, the Tahoe ministry was able to order their third van in September: this time a mini-van for shorter trips. And Debbie Wohler is “retiring” from label collecting.
“I feel kind of guilty,” she said. “It’s time for someone else to receive all these blessings.”
She will be sending a note to the 3,700-plus Baptists who have helped the ministry by sending her labels. She’ll be telling them about the new missionary collecting labels — missionary Jack Little who is the director of church and community ministries for the Charleston Baptist Association in South Carolina. He will be collecting the next 1,095,000 labels for a 15-passenger van to support his ministry in North Charleston, one of the most needy areas in the state.
They will use the van to provide free medical transportation to medical and dental clinics; for children on ministry-sponsored field trips; and to take the elderly in nearby housing projects to the store.
For specific instructions on what to save and how to cut, or to send labels, write Little at 189 Rutledge Ave., Charleston, SC 29403, or e-mail to [email protected]
In the meantime, Debbie — and all who hear her story — are amazed at the myriad stories she tells of people who have saved labels.
One of her favorite stories is about the woman who periodically sent in labels she had collected. She was old and couldn’t do much ministry anymore, she had written to Debbie, but she would do what she could.
Her regular shipments dwindled off and Debbie didn’t hear from her for awhile. Then she received a phone call from the woman’s son. “He told me he wanted me to know why I hadn’t received any labels from his mom. She had died, but he wanted me to know that when they found her, she was sitting in a chair where she had been cutting labels,” Debbie said.
“He wanted me to know that she was ushered into the kingdom serving her Lord and helping missionaries.”

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  • Sherri Brown