Unclaimed Baggage Center, a Christian company and store founded 45 years ago that buys and sells unclaimed baggage from airline carriers, has been instrumental in providing specific goods for Christian ministries, including Samaritan's Purse and a prison ministry run by author and quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada.
The Alabama-based business offers merchandise left on airlines by flyers who failed to claim it within the 90-day industry standard deadline and has become one of the state's biggest tourist attractions for its wide variety of products that can be purchased at much cheaper prices than their market value.
Business, however, is not the only driving force for Unclaimed Baggage, as the store donates a significant amount of its inventory to its Mission Aid Division that works with Christian missionaries throughout the world.
"We have a lot of medical mission teams that work through an organization that we donate all our medical supplies to," said Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador for Unclaimed Baggage Center to The Christian Post.
Some of these supplies include wheelchairs, walkers, canes, nebulizers and other products unavailable in certain countries. Pallet loads of these products are sent to Samaritan's Purse for international medical relief missions' trips, according to Cantrell.
Many of the wheelchairs are sent to a maximum security prison in Louisiana where quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada runs a program for prisoners with no chance of parole. The program gives them the chance to contribute to society by repairing the wheelchairs and sending them back out into the world to places where it's hard to get these items.
The company also donates many pairs of eyeglasses found on the airlines which Cantrell says make all the difference to people with bad eyesight.
"We hear stories of a kid who can't see beyond his feet, or an 80/90-year-old man who never knew what the shape of leaves on a tree were until he got these glasses. And so you lose a pair, [it's] no big deal [to you] but its life changing for somebody else," said Cantrell.
Unclaimed Baggage Center is the brainchild of Doyle Owens, an Alabama businessman who purchased his first load of unclaimed baggage for $300 in 1970. The investment eventually developed into a successful store over four decades.
The company's current owner, Doyle's son, Brian Owens, starts all of the company's meeting with a prayer and works with a well-known chaplain, Richard Buckley, who Cantrell described as a special person.
"[Buckley] has just been a life changing instrument in our company. If my child is in the hospital [he comes to see him]. If my brother-in law's nephew on the other side was struggling with drug addiction, if he was in the hospital, he might go see him," explained Cantrell.
Unclaimed Baggage Center also provides aid to the children of crystal methamphetamine addicts who've been taken from their parents through a program called Love Luggage. Many of these children usually leave all their possessions behind when they're placed with new foster parents.
"When there's meth involved, the children have to leave with nothing," said Cantrell. "They have the clothes on their back. They can't take any belongings."
Through the program, Unclaimed Baggage donates suitcases filled with goods that have been painted with a "message of love" by kids at local public schools who also write letters of encouragement to these children.
"It's amazing the heartfelt thoughts and prayers that [these students] have for these children," said Cantrell.
She explained that Unclaimed Baggage Center also provides a common good to the public by allowing them to work and purchase name brand goods at reasonable prices.
"There's absolutely something in giving, but there's also something about people having their dignity that do work for a living but can't necessarily make all the ends meet. Being able to provide an opportunity for them where they'll still be able to purchase things," said Cantrell.
Some 1 percent of travelers' bags don't meet their owners at the carousel. Within 24 hours, 80 to 90 percent of those bags are found by airlines. Some 95 to 98 percent of those bags are usually returned to their owners. The remaining bags are sold to Unclaimed Baggage Center by airlines that have agreements with the company.