Center Spread: Relief for the Kosovars

SKOPJE, Macedonia — Just one week after President Gordon B. Hinckley announced in general conference that the Church would assist refugees from Kosovo, some 78,500 pounds of food was put into their hands.

The delivery was made April 10-11 to generous families near this city who are hosting refugees in their homes, and who, after several weeks of providing for an extra family, have little to feed them.

Church officials who accompanied the shipment by air to the troubled land included Harold C. Brown, managing director of Welfare Services; Garry Flake, director of LDS Humanitarian Services; and Dan Rascon of Public Affairs.

Brother Rascon described the arrival and distribution of the materials as "a first class operation." He said recent shipments of food to the refugee camps had alleviated food shortages there temporarily. So the Church's shipment was distributed among the many refugees living with host families near Skopje, who are facing continual shortages.

Another shipment of 200,000 pounds of clothing is expected to arrive soon.

"The food delivery, through Mercy Corps International, went well," he said. "There are 30,000 host families in Macedonia, and each family has taken in five or six refugees, but obviously they are not in a position where they can feed them."

He explained that the boxes, which had food for 18,000 people, were taken from the airport to a central storage area and then dispersed on trucks to four smaller cities outside Skopje where the boxes were picked up by refugees or host families.

"The host families were in desperate need of food," he said. "One family had cramped 14 refugees in their home, and couldn't feed them.

"These host families are opening their homes to complete strangers and are willing to take care of them and feed them."

Those in refugee camps live in tents "very close together" which become muddy fields in rain. Supplies of food and water have improved, but life is difficult in the tight, fenced and guarded quarters.

"One thing that Harold Brown noticed is that the children have nowhere to play or go, no swings or soccer fields or anything. There are no kinds of activities for teenagers or adults either."

Brother Rascon said that in talking with the refugees, the visitors from Utah learned that many Kosovo family members are missing.

"They were pulled away from each other," explained Brother Rascon. "There are lots of stories of being held at gunpoint and given five minutes to flee before their homes and all their possessions were taken. Wives lost track of husbands and husbands lost track of wives. There are children with no parents, and parents without all their children. Many don't know where the rest of their families are."

He said some refugees had just the clothing on their backs. "When they wash the children's clothing, they wrap the children in towels until the clothing is dry."

The food boxes, which were sent to host families were filled with enough food and supplies for a family of four for a week. They were prepared April 6 at Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. Some 200 volunteers from four Sandy, Utah, area stakes filled the boxes.

In an interview at Welfare Square, Harold C. Brown paid tribute to the volunteers who had come during the afternoon on short notice, "so many people so willing and so able to help."

"The great advantage of the Church Welfare System is that the food and supplies we use are here already, prepared for our people from our own system."

This, he explained, allows the Church to respond quickly in situations where food is needed quickly.

Thomas T. Rich, first counselor in the Sandy Utah Lone Peak Stake presidency, made phone calls to leaders of the Sandy Crescent, Sandy Granite View, and Sandy Hidden Valley stakes to volunteers. Among them were Scout troops, high school students, retired people and a few entire families.

Becky Loveless of the Crescent 8th Ward of the Lone Peak stake said all five of her family members living at home came to help. "I remembered hearing about Brigham Young asking the members to rescue the people still on the plains in the winter," she said.

"This is our religion — to go take care of the people who need help the most. I have been watching the news and I am really concerned."

Another volunteer, Jan Dame of the Pinecrest Ward, also of the Lone Peak stake, who is retired, said, "I served in the military and I have been around the world. I appreciate a chance to do more than just contribute money to these needs. I felt especially good that the Church was doing something about the refugees."