Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And not to forget...

... the final update video.

Victory for Georgia!

They lost the war with Russia, but they won some blankets. It's poor compensation but at least somewhat better than losing a war and being cold.

As you may have gathered from my tone two posts ago, I was recently feeling somewhat despondent about this project's chances of successful completion. Sensing my despondency, Blankets for Georgia donor and supporter Kristen Chocheli and her husband Niko put me in touch with the American Red Cross. Here are some magical facts that I learned that day:

Magical Fact #1: The American Red Cross was also running a Blankets for Georgia drive and would soon be shipping those blankets overseas.
Magical Fact #2: They had recently upgraded from a 20' to a 40' crate and had some extra space that they were willing to offer for our little project.
Magical Fact #3: A member of their project was the owner of a shipping company who would ship the crate to Georgia regardless of the fact that other shippers told me recently that no commercial shippers are going to Georgia in the wake of the war.
Magical Fact #4: The crate was shipping from Baltimore, which is a mere 2-hour drive from where the boxes were stored.

I can't begin to describe the serendipity/hand of God behind this. Why would the boxes be shipped from somewhere so close to where I lived? Why did their project end just as my free storage was two weeks from running out and thus necessitating the redistribution of the donations?

Like I said-- magic.

In any case, we packed up the boxes on the day after Christmas and drove them to the warehouse in a U-Haul truck that was rented to us for free by a local business owner (see acknowledgments at the end of this post). All the boxes are now on pallets and wrapped in plastic in a crate, and they should be on their way to Georgia by early January and will arrive 4 weeks later.

The project money has found a good home, as well. Since the Georgia Red Cross will be handling the transportation of logistics inside Georgia, they will receive all the project money, $2600 after expenses. In exchange, they will make sure the boxes from this project wind up at the NGO I designated them for-- CHF International, who will distribute the boxes to villages around the town of Gori-- and the rest of the money will go to defray their costs in distributing the remaining Red Cross blankets to needy Georgian families.

All in all, a happy ending. And this happy ending was brought to you by...

- Mike Hewitt
Hewitt's Service Center in Lexington Park, MD

Mike Hewitt is the man who donated the U-Haul truck for our usage on December 26th. Although we went vastly over the allotted mileage and ended up racking up a $260 rental charge, he comped all of it in the name of charity. Thank you, Mike.

- John Boyd
The Shipping Store in Wildewood Shopping Center

John Boyd owns the first business that donated to the project, and I don't know where we would be if he hadn't been so generous. He provided, free of charge, 41 new cardboard boxes with a total value of over $300, and to boot, he drove them to our house. Thank you, John.

- John Charles
Security Storage in Hollywood, MD

John Charles is the manager of the storage facility that provided three months of storage for the project boxes at a rate of $1/month (in a unit that is approx $100/month at market value). Even as the shipping process dragged on indefinitely, he arranged with the owners to allow the boxes to stay in their storage unit for an extra month above and beyond what they promised, and that saved the project. Thank you, John.

- Mark Dale
Pro Fitness Gym in Wildewood Shopping Center

Mark Dale not only allowed me to place a donation drop-off box in his gym, he also pestered his clients and anyone who walked through the door that they should donate blankets and clothes to our cause. Every time I saw that box, it was overflowing. Thank you, Mark.

- Norm Scofield
Shoppers Food Warehouse in San Souci Plaza

Norm Scofield allowed me to place a donation drop-off box in the entrance of the Shoppers that he manages even though that act bends the rules of company policy. I hope I'm not getting him in trouble by saying that. Thank you, Norm.

- Lisa Erdeljon & Mrs. Erdeljon
Northern Virginia

Lisa Erdeljon, a former Georgia volunteer, and her mother held their own drive in northern Virginia and then drove a van full of donations all the way to our storage facility in southern Maryland in time for our boxing party. They brought extra cardboard boxes with them, and the quality and quantity of their donations were fantastic. They stayed for hours packing boxes with us, and when it was all over, they drove all the way back to northern Virginia. Thanks, Lisa & Lisa's mom.

- Barbara Stanley, Rev. Mike Jones & the Pax Pres Outreach Committee
Patuxent Presbyterian Church in California, MD

Barbara Stanley coordinated the placement of a donation drop-off box in the church and promoted the project in the church bulletin. Rev. Jones actively supported the project and announced it during services, and the Outreach committee made a substantial contribution toward the shipping fund. Thanks so much to all of you.

- American Red Cross
Baltimore, MD

Without your help, these blankets would be rotting in a storage unit in southern Maryland until eternity. Thanks so much to Alan Friedman for coordinating, Jock Menzies for shipping, and Ed Gregg for packing. Double thanks for receiving the boxes on the day after Christmas so I could get back to work on Monday.

- Chris Haitz
CEVA Logistics in Torranca, CA

Chris Haitz is a former Georgia volunteer from my group who worked very hard for months to get his employer to carry the blankets to Georgia via freight. While the Red Cross opportunity presented itself before we could work anything out, I still appreciate all the work he did to try and help the project. Thank you, Chris.

- All the project coordinators at the schools
St. Mary's County Public Schools

Many people at Esperanza, Great Mills, Leonardtown, Hollywood, and Spring Ridge were involved in storing blankets, creating publicity, and encouraging students to participate in this project. Special thanks to Jackie Orr, Connie Garvin, Peggy Erdolino, Mrs. Long at Hollywood, Brenda Hecker, and Mike Sturgess.

- Former Georgia Volunteers
Various American and Georgian locales

Not only did Georgia Peace Corps volunteers turn out en masse to donate funds to the project, a select few who had returned to Georgia to work also played an invaluable role in coordinating the logistics of the arrival of the blankets. A million bazillion thanks to Johanna Holtan, Brian Halusan & CHF International, and Ruth Decalo. I feel like I'm missing somebody... please remind me if I did.

- Kristen & Niko Chocheli

Kristen and Niko sent frequent emails to keep up with the progress of the project. They were the only donors to mail in clothing donations from outside the southern Maryland area, and they also contributed to the shipping fund. They were full of ideas on how I could promote the project and what organizations I could contact, and in the end, they saved the project by putting me in touch with the American Red Cross. Thank you, Kristen and Niko; this project would have definitely failed without your help.

- Lela Termakozashvili
Kheltubani, Georgia

Lela was my only Georgian contact at the beginning of the project. She went on fact-finding expeditions back in September to identify what people needed and where those people were. This project would not, in fact, be "Blankets for Georgia" without Lela. Gmadlobt, Lela!

- The Donors

People donated money to this project in all different amounts and at different points on the timeline. Every little bit helped, and you all should be so proud that your money will be paying for the distribution of blankets and coats by the Georgian Red Cross during the dead of winter. Thank you!

And last but not least...

- Casey McFann
My mom a.k.a. host of "Living Fit with Casey" on channel 10 and YouTube

Mom was the secret backbone of this project. All of the driving for the project, excluding the final drive to the warehouse, was done either by her or in her car by me. Over the course of 3 weeks, she visited all the drop-off points several times in her Toyota Camry to cram as much stuff as she could into the car, and then she shuttled it to the storage unit. She also completed a large amount of the packing and cataloging of the donations by herself when I was sidelined by surgery in mid-October (surprise!). She helped publicize the project, and she edited all the YouTube video updates that this project has produced. She was the first person to think that this project was a good idea, and it wouldn't have been started at all without her encouragement, and possibly her growing concern that I was sitting around unemployed all day every day. Thanks, Mom. I love you!

- Bill McFann
My dad a.k.a. president of Island Engineering in Piney Point, MD

Dad was a big support when aspects of the project grew too overwhelming for me to handle alone. When I had spent weeks negotiating with a shipping company to no avail, Dad used his industry contacts to locate other options-- it was his contacts who informed me that commercial shipments were not going to Georgia, and that was vital information to me. Dad also applied his brilliant engineering mind to the task of packing the boxes into the storage unit and onto the truck and to developing a maximum-efficiency assembly line system as we attempted to sort the mountains of tangled blankets and coats into boxes; he brought along his girlfriend Judy to our box-packing party and they spent hours of their Saturday at that task. At the very end, he even put me in contact with his friend Mike Hewitt (see the first entry in the credits section). Thank you, Dad and Judy. Love you too!

We'll close with the last vision of the boxes as they left St. Mary's County, MD. Pictured are Judy, Dad, me, Mom, and my helpful friend Kim. She and my sister Sara helped pack and did much to keep me from crashing the 14' rental truck into oncoming traffic or parked cars. Thanks, ladies.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wishin'... and Hopin'...

We may have a breakthrough. I won't put up details about it until it's finalized, since nobody else deserves to be let down by shipping arrangements except for me... but there may be blanket-based glory ahead of us in Baltimore...

I shall say no more.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Whither Blankets?

I, too, am upset that I haven't had anything to post here in over a month. Every day that ticks by on the calendar ratchets up my frustration and fear of impending failure by just a smidgen. I think the following article explains everything:


Just to clarify what the article said, there is a back-up plan in place, but it's not the greatest solution-- at the end of this month, I'll take the $3000 and use it to ship as many of the boxes as I can via USPS, and those will be distributed to needy families by an NGO in central Georgia. I estimate that I can only send 20-25 boxes this way due to financial restraints, so the remaining donations would have to go to local charities.

Well, there's an idea... contact me if you want to sponsor a box. I'll send it overseas in your name, how's that?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Why are you here when you could be watching the election returns? Well since you're looking, may as well throw some Blankets for Georgia statistics at you...

Boxes of donations: 74
Total weight: 2,392.5 pounds (1,085 kilos)
Sample item tallies: 278 blankets, 278 coats, 394 sweaters, 136 pants

Now's the part where I negotiate with a shipping company to get this stuff overseas, which is what I've been doing for the last two weeks. We could still use funds-- it looks like it will cost over $2500 to ship everything, and we have about $1500 now. Help!!!

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Thanks to the helpful helpfulness of fellow Georgia ex-volunteer Lisa Erdeljon and her mom, my mom, and Dad & happy helper Judy, the vast majority of the blankets and coats and stuff have been organized into boxes. They brought a good bit of sorted donations and empty boxes down with them, so kudos to them.

Total so far: 50 boxes

Stuff remaining to be boxed: Not much

Project should be done: Soon

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ringo Says...

... the project is coming to a close. I can't even fathom how I'm going to get the mountain of blankets we've already collected into boxes, and seeing as the original project end date was set for this past Monday, all the boxes will be taken down on Thursday or Friday.

Here to tell you about it is Ringo Starr. Sort of.

(That video made no sense to you unless you'd seen this video)

After we've got everything boxed and set, I'll post a final count, after which we can pat ourselves on the backs. Of course, we're going to be patting ourselves on the backs while a monstrous pile of blankets gets dumped in the river next April after sitting in an account-past-due storage unit all winter unless we get some shipping money.

A million thanks to the people have donated to the project already. The rest of you, take those faceless initials and town names as a shining example for us all. Wouldn't we rather bring smiles to the faces of hundreds of Georgians instead of a giant scowl to a fisherman who hooks a coat from the riverbed next spring?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Checking In

Here's your second project update video. These'll keep coming as long as Mom continues to be fascinated by the video-editing capabilities of her Macbook.

The day after we filmed this (namely, today), we received calls from three drop-off points requesting a pick-up, and now there's a mountain of unboxed blankets and coats in the storage space piled next to the 22 boxes you see here. This is delightful, though we're still without sufficient shipping money... if you were waiting for your opportunity to donate until after I had started to feel creeping panic, then this is your moment.

We still need twice as much shipping money as the $850 we've raised so far, at least.
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