Shadyside 'Donation' Mix-up Teaches A Hard Lesson

November 11, 1990|By Wayne Ridenour

On June 17, I saw a CNN news broadcast about the devastating flood in Shadyside, Ohio. I was so moved that I asked myself what I could do to help.

After giving the matter some thought, I formed the Shadyside Ohio Relief Fund. Through coverage in the local newspapers and television stations, people in Maryland, parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania became as excited as I was. It seemed that many of them wanted to help.

You can just imagine how excited I was when, on June 19, Maryland Secretary of State Winfield Kelly Jr. notified me. It seemed the state wanted to help too.

That afternoon two representatives from the state visited me to plan ways to get the greatest possible response to the drive. I explained to them that we were looking strictly for donations of food, clothing, lumber, building supplies and water.

The following day I met with Mirian Patterson, assistant secretary of state. We discussed our goals. Since I was the only outsider in contact with Shadyside's mayor, I assured Patterson that I would get a list of needed items from the mayor and pass it on to her as soon as possible.

The mayor's list included food, clothes, money and drinking water. On Thursday, June 21, I gave the list to Patterson.

On Tuesday, June 26, Patterson called. She said Safeway had a truckload of water and another of supplies. Reporters were told: "Safeway is committing a truckload of supplies and a truckload of water."

On hearing this, we were all truly moved. Things were looking good; we had raised about $3,000 and Safeway was giving us supplies and water.

On Wednesday, Patterson called to say that Safeway could not give $35,000 worth of supplies. I understood and decided to call Safeway myself to see what I could do.

I spoke with James Roberts, Safeway's public relations manager. He was very nice, but explained that the company could not give away that much merchandise.

We worked on ways to trim the list of supplies. I wasn't looking for Safeway to give us all the needed supplies. After all, it had only agreed to help and $35,000 was a little bit too much from one company, no matter how large.

Roberts said he'd see what he could do to trim the list. On Wednesday afternoon I went over his list with him. I would have liked to have much more food, and fewer health care items, but who was I to tell Safeway what to donate? I would take it, be happy, and thank God for the company's generosity.

Around 3:30 the following afternoon, the bomb dropped! I was informed that the truckload of supplies that were committed to the people of Shadyside, Ohio, had a $15,000 price tag attached.

I was in shock; I couldn't believe what I was being told. I informed the Secretary of State's office that there was no way that the fund could, or would, commit itself to this bill. And if these things were going to be sold to us, why weren't we told in the beginning? We hadn't raised anything close to that amount.

A little later the Secretary of State's office called back with a new deal. Although nothing had been removed from the trucks, the price tag had dropped to $11,000 and Safeway had agreed to donate the truckload of water.

I had to refuse this latest deal.

I then had a very heated conversation with Winfield Kelly. He said, "Well, you didn't think they were going to give them to you for free, did you?"

I simply replied, "Yes." I reminded Kelly of our original conversation, in which I clearly stated to him and his staff that we were looking strictly for donations.

He assured me Safeway had worked hard to get these supplies ready for us and wanted them to go to Ohio. He asked how much money we had raised to date. I informed him that we had about $3,500, $2,500 of which I was already committed to taking to Ohio with me.

By this time, my biggest concern was being able to repay Safeway. Kelly assured me that we wouldn't, under any circumstances, have to pay Safeway any more money then we were able to raise. I was still not pleased with the deal. After going another round with Kelly, the price was finally dropped to a firm $10,000.

Since this discussion took place, I have talked to Safeway once more. It seems that Roberts was unaware that the Shadyside Ohio Relief Fund didn't have money. Roberts felt that all this mess wasn't Safeway's fault, and maybe it's not. Roberts noted that it was Kelly who informed Safeway that I had $15,000 to spend on supplies, and that Safeway was never asked to donate the supplies to us.

To this day, I still don't understand why Kelly told Safeway we had $15,000 when he knew from the start that we were looking only for donations.

We've been informed by Kelly's office that we must pay Safeway for these supplies. Well, so be it. We've asked Safeway for the bill of lading so that we can see our actual cost and actual discount. But newspaper accounts of this situation say Safeway has not billed, and doesn't intend to bill, the relief fund.

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