Ask the Rev. Donn Ed about his career and he says he is simply doing what a "higher power" wants him to do.
And that means helping those who need help.
Along with many others, the Rev. Ed this week celebrated the 20th anniversary of Hosanna Industries at its headquarters, the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown in Richland. The organization is a faith-based, nonprofit committed to improving the lives of the poor. The group's volunteers help with basic needs, such as housing and career training, and coordinates and sends volunteer relief workers to disasters, like Hurricane Katrina or the floods here.
During Christmas Eve in 1987, the Rev. Ed was making pastoral visits to needy families. Between scheduled candlelight services at his church, he made the trek to one family living in stunning poverty.
"I was completely blown away by the suffering this family was dealing with," he recalled. "A single mother living with her five children using cardboard as carpeting and a wood stove for heat. I just could not get this sight out of my head. I knew the groceries and $50 bill I was delivering would not cut it."
He decided right then that he needed to do more, and the idea for Hosanna Industries was born.
A little while later, he crafted a business plan that would help get his nonprofit off the ground and recruited local lawyers and business leaders to help.
Then, during an evening of prayer and reading, he discovered what the word "Hosanna" actually meant.
"For the longest time, I thought it was a happy word, a word of praise," he said. "I found out that night it actually was a cry for help, a plea for a rescue of some kind."
During a Palm Sunday service in 1990 at the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown, the organization officially started. In the 20 years since, Hosanna Industries has hosted more than 35,000 volunteers, moved 45,000 tons of materials, completed more than 2,300 homes and traveled more than 2 million miles; all in an effort to improve the quality of life for those who need it most.
"Wherever there is a need, we try to provide it," he said. "We've spent time along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. We've also helped rebuild churches that were burned to the ground in Arkansas."
The organization also has spent a great deal of time assisting those in need at home. Hosanna Industries mobilized staff and volunteers to repair and rebuild homes in Millvale and surrounding areas following the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
The volunteers also do housing rehab work in neighborhoods such as Duquesne and Wilkinsburg.
Earlier this year, the group built a new home for a needy couple in Beaver Falls, along with creating additional office space for Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg.
"A lot of times, the neediest of all are right under our noses," the Rev. Ed said.
The reverend says he receives the most satisfaction by the number of volunteers willing to assist the cause.
"It is truly amazing," he said. "We get folks from different denominations ... but they are all united by the common cause. They are too busy swinging a hammer or carrying a ladder to discuss their differences. They have better things to work toward."
When Hosanna Industries was founded it had a working budget of approximately $30,000. Two decades later, the agency has a budget of $1.5 million, much of which comes in the form of donations from area businesses and churches.
"Fairly regularly, we get calls from business leaders or other churches looking to help us," the reverend said. "It is very gratifying. The mission here is alive and well."
Perhaps the moment that gave the Rev. Ed the most joy occurred during Sunday's anniversary celebration.
The minister was approached by a young gentleman who said Hosanna Industries helped him with vocational training and he now has his own home remodeling business
"I cannot tell you how happy that made me feel," the Rev. Ed said.
To volunteer or donate, call 724-770-0262 or visit www.hosannaindustries.org.
David Whipkey, freelance writer: email@example.com .