Aid set to go to Balkans

Church group helping Kosovar refugees

May 16, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Life's simplest necessities are as close as the nearest mall for most Americans and as far away as a warehouse in Maryland for thousands of Kosovo refugees.

Volunteers and staff members of Brethren Service Center in New Windsor are working to bring those things closer to the war-ravaged Balkans.

Last week, they sorted tons of underwear, socks and toiletries, putting them into what they call family packs. The shipment will be on its way tomorrow to Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia.

"It will be airlifted from JFK International [Airport in New York] and should arrive within 24 hours," said Kathleen Campanella, spokeswoman for the center. "Church World Services will be there to receive the shipment and distribute it in the refugee camps."

From volunteers in the Balkans, the center, which is operated by the Church of the Brethren, has learned of the deprivation and crowding in the camps, some of which are providing temporary living space to as many as 25,000 people.

"The challenge is getting these items to the right location and then getting into the camps," said Campanella.

Church World Services has helped with that effort. It has had missionaries in the Balkans since the end of World War II and has established contacts throughout Eastern Europe, Campanella said.

$150,000 donation

When the fighting broke out and Kosovars began fleeing their homes, the center started sending relief supplies. More than 500,000 pounds of tents, blankets, layettes, health supplies and school kits have gone to refugees. The Church of the Brethren's Emergency Disaster Fund donated more than $150,000 to Kosovo relief last month.

The New Windsor location has sent child-care workers to help Kosovar refugees who recently arrived in the United States, and it is preparing housing for some of them. Campanella expects about a dozen Kosovars at a time to make use of the center's hospitality during their transition to life in the United States.

The center has also shipped to the Balkans several World Health Organization-approved medicine boxes, each with enough prescription and nonprescription medicines to treat 3,000 people for a month.

"There is everything from aspirin to antibiotics," said Campanella.

Tons of blankets

Tons of heavy woolen blankets have arrived and are much needed despite the warmer weather.

"People use the blankets for everything from knapsacks to warmth," said Campanella. "We have heard the nights there are still very cool, and we are preparing for the long term."

Originally, the supplies went to U.S. bases in Italy, but as the need has grown, the center has been shipping directly to the camps.

Aid can be as simple as a change of clothing or as involved as antibiotics. Tomorrow's shipment consists of about 4,000 pounds of white cotton socks and underwear donated by hundreds of congregations in the area.

"We are sending something for everyone, simple things we can find anywhere but to them it makes all the difference," said Campanella.

Each plastic bag has three changes of clothing in men's, women's and children's sizes.

`Everything they need'

"All people have to do is grab a bag," said Rosella Reese, a packer. "Everything they need is there."

Reese, an employee at the center for 13 years, said the warehouse has been on alert for weeks and has been getting shipments together constantly.

"We are glad to be helping people less fortunate," she said. "It makes you appreciate what you have. I can't imagine what it is like to have everything taken away from you."

Five elderly volunteers from West York Church of the Brethren in Pennsylvania pulled packing duty last week and worked tirelessly under Reese's direction.

`I feel empathy'

"Actually, our preacher asked us to come, and we can't tell him no," said Kathleen Lloyd. "I feel empathy for these people. The items we are sending can help them keep down diseases. We just all thank God we are not there."

The volunteers counted, sorted and assembled the family bags throughout an eight-hour day. Maybelle Rohrbaugh found that the missing-sock syndrome is universal, even when unwrapping new packages of them.

"I only have two and a half pairs of men's socks for this bag. Where's the third pair?" she said, scouring a table full of paired white cotton socks in search of the errant one.

The center sends medicines and emergency supplies from stockpiles in its warehouse. Campanella assured the volunteers that there were enough socks.

The staff works with many denominations and with nonprofit organizations such as the Red Cross.

"Whether the disaster is natural or man-made, we have the storage and inventory to respond immediately," said Campanella.

Last month, in addition to the Kosovo efforts, the center allocated funds and relief items to storm victims in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Central America.

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