Sri Lanka Tsunami Victims Rejoice in the Amazing Generosity of Meridian Readers
by Gary and Joy Lundberg

In January we sent out a plea on Meridian Magazine, asking for your help in giving relief to the Tsunami victims in Sri Lanka. We could not resist the heartfelt request of our Muslim friend Asim Alavi to help these desperate children. The response from readers was overwhelming.  Words cannot express how touched we were by the generosity of so many.  At the end of this article is a small sample of the many comments and photos we received from those answering the call for help.  Many letters expressed the same feelings as these writers. We wish we had room to include all, for each one touched our hearts.

We worked through Paul Holton’s charitable foundation Operation Give to ship the items free of charge through a special arrangement he has with FedEx.  Through our project, thousands of boxes of goods poured into the Operation Give warehouse in Salt Lake City.  His dedicated crew worked untold hours receiving and preparing the boxes for shipping.

We had hoped the goods would be shipped by plane, but as the planes were in huge demand for building supplies, they became unavailable for many charitable shipments, including ours.  As a result, our donations were sent by ship, the first 40 foot container arriving two weeks ago, and the second one last week.  Asim was overjoyed at the number of kits and quality of the donations. Some of the children’s kits contained letters from children who helped assemble them.  Asim said, “I was just skipping through the letters sent by kids along with the consignment.  They are showing an extreme form of kindness towards the Tsunami-affected children here.  We all are really surprised to see this kindness from thousands of kilometers away across the ocean.”

It has been an enormous task at the port in Sri Lanka and then organizing distribution to the needed areas.  Several times we received this request from Asim: “Please increase your prayers for a successful implementation.”  The government there kept changing their restrictions, which caused him and us great concern.  Prayers were answered.  Asim said, “Indeed, the distribution was possible with the hard work of so many volunteers.  They spent several sleepless nights, God bless them.”   We have been extremely impressed with the organized way Asim and his Serendib Institute have handled the distribution.  He said there have been many containers sent by other organizations that are simply abandoned at the port due to unforseen cost and lack of help.

Some of those costs were unexpected charges by authorities there, and  the cost to rent trucks and to pay port help.  He said some organizations have had to pay as much as $10,000 USD per container to facilitate distribution, and since they have no money the goods are not being distributed.  That’s a sad situation.  We are very grateful that every kit, every donation from our project has been distributed as designated.  We have had to bear the unexpected costs of more than $2,000 for the two containers we sent and would be so very appreciative of any funds you could donate to help offset this cost.  Donations can be sent through,Be sure to click on URGENT: Tsunami Relief Efforts on the home page.  All donations are tax deductible.  You’ve already done so much we hesitate to ask for this help, but if it’s not a burden, we and Operation Give would be very grateful, as will Asim.  Any money that is donated in excess of our needs will be used by Operation Give in their continued effort to ship goods to needy areas throughout the world.

Asim Alavi’s Report

Since the hundreds of you who donated items are anxiously waiting to hear how the project was received in Sri Lanka we’re including Asim’s report in full, in his own words, along with some photos he sent. This report was received April 8, 2005.

“I am happy to send this brief note on the implementation of the project.  All together we did the distribution to about fifty places.

“In the aftermath the recent Tsunami our friends Joy and her husband Mr. Gary sent me an email enquiring our situation including that of my family. At a time of anguish and suffering of such a magnitude caused to my countrymen and personal sorrow we underwent over the loss of our belongings due to the deadly Tsunami this email really gave me relief of mind

“The Tsunami made a devastating impact on the children who live along the 80% of the coastal belt of Sri Lanka.  It snatched away their parents and siblings in front of their very eyes so horribly that they could not extend their hands or jump into the water to rescue them, thus creating a permanent scar in their minds on their failure to save their own family members.   I related the story and the pathetic situation of these children to Joy.   I knew Mr. Gary and Joy are involved actively with the World Family Policy Center, which strives to protect the Family and

human progeny.  Therefore we believed its appropriate to draw them towards this cherished humanitarian mission.   In response to our frantic plea for Tsunami recovery intervention they arranged through Operation Give, a charity organization based in Utah, USA,  a large consignment of  Children and Family Kits consisting of essential items to start a life with fresh hopes.   This is where I came across Mr. Paul Holton, who is the coordinator of this Charity.   In the course of this mission I found that  he is the prime mover of this recovery mission.

“The major commendable feature of these two 40-footer container loads of items was the large variety of toys for kids and stuffed animals.  This is in fact an innovative humanitarian intervention.  I myself saw many children packages but did not come across a conceptual toy component either in what my own kids were presented or otherwise.  We, as social workers involved in several Tsunami recovery missions, encountered a major problem on how to present substitutes of a temporary nature to these children who were so confused and saw a bleak future.   Usually in such situations when survivors of a catastrophe were herded and packed into public schools and makeshift tents children become an extraordinary problem to their parents.  They are compelled to manage their own aftershocks and that of their children.  Its not difficult for a person with least common sense to imagine the mental agony a family undergoes when they break into pieces after a Tsunami that relegates them to refugee camps in a matter of less then ten minutes.

The consignment from Operation Give was very well organized so the sorting was very easy and pleasurable here. Cartons and packets, although they reached one central point from all over the United States in all types of packings, were serialized item by item and neatly arranged as if they were packed in one place.  This indeed made our task of sorting and reducing them into individual kits much easier.

“Joy Lundburg kept me informed of the large scale response they were receiving from Mormons  all over the United States; people have donated all what they could to make the mission a success.  Young and old, boys, girls, children, students, adults and others enthusiastically participated in collecting the items, sorting packing etc.   This way they made our task here much pleasurable.

“From the consignment we made over 3000 packs consisting three of type of kits (Children Kit, Family Kit and Health Kit).  The donors wanted us to ensure a fair distribution among the victims irrespective of their religious or ethnic affiliations.   Serendib Instutte of Research and Development adopts a very strict non_discriminatory tradition since inception, which mirrors its reflections in all our activities. Therefore it was easy for us to oblige.

“For distribution we mainly focused on pre_schools, schools and religious institutions in the five affected districts : Trincomalee, Ampara, Hambantota, Galle and Kalutara.

“As we went to a Muslim village which lies within the 100 meter coastal buffer zone we announced that this consignment is a gift from a Christian Church group in the USA.   On hearing this some were taken aback while some others showed apprehension.  We explained to them from what I knew of Mormons from friends.  I said this sect is not as the ordinary Christians we have encountered in this part of the world.  They do not indulge in what is prohibited in their scriptures (like alcohol which is Haram for Muslims).  They promote and practice extended family system and do not kill their infants in the womb which Islam equates with slaying a complete human life.  After that students and the youth actively participated in the mission. In some other village, the entire village celebrated upon receiving the gifts.

“One Roman Catholic mother told me that it was her usual practice to buy a toy per month for her two sons.   But the Tsunami took all his toys away.   It was Operation Give which took such a novel initiative to make the children happy.

“As we pasted a sticker on each and every packet depicting Operation Give and Serendib Institute of Research and Development, people were very curious to know the background of Operation Give.  We deliberately took this opportunity to explain to them that the consignment is from Christians given to Muslims for distribution among all communities.  This is a very good example of mutual trust and cooperation.  It shows a fine way for inter_religious harmony.

“We visited a Buddhist monk who runs a pre_school.  He was surprised to see his portion of the relief were channeled through a Muslim base organization by Christians.   He opined it is  the best way to ensure fair treatment of all citizens.

“We visited a Roman Catholic church attached to a school. The priest overseas the church, the school and the local RC community.  I explained to him the background of Operation Give.   He said the project will bring fresh hopes to Tsunami children, and requested us to notify him of similar programs that lead to constructive confidence building among communities, with much appreciation.

“One mother told us that her son, on hearing that the portion given to his school will be distributed the next day, had prayed God frantically he also be a recipient.

“We were rained with Thank you and to the donors; in some areas parents, kids and teachers came en masse and thanked in chorus.

“In one school, teachers, after inspecting the contents of the packs, said they are valuable items and do not want to betray non_Tsunami students in their school by giving them away only to Tsunami students.  They sought our permission to make all the students happy by equitable distribution, which we obliged.

“Thank you to everyone for your kindness and loving concern for the children of this terrible Tsunami disaster.   Asim Alavi”

Sampling of Letters and Photos from Donors

Kristen Sweeney, Mesa, Arizona: “My heart was broken. I wanted desperately to do something. But how? The devastation and need is daunting. I prayed and prayed for something that I could do. I wish I could get on a plane and go there and just hold some of those poor hurt little children! Or put my arms around the grieving women I see weeping on TV. Just when I was about to give up, I found the article from Meridian Magazine. I knew it was the answer to my prayers! I dropped to my knees to ask Heavenly Father if in fact this was what I should do. The spirit was so strong I could hardly stay on my knees. I felt Him saying “Get up and get busy!” So we have been busy ever since. The Lord has truly guided us through this process.  We solicited the help of friends, neighbors, wards. I wondered if people would really do this. The response has been overwhelming. The door bell rings non-stop. We love it. Also, I set up a laundry basket outside my front door so people could drop their kits off if I was gone. Every time we pulled into the cul_de_sac we would get so excited to see the basket overflowing with kits! It’s been like Christmas for us as we get the kits and look through each one “ooohing” and “aahhhing” over them. Also, Jaren, my 12-year-old son, and Michelle, my 9-year-old daughter, made boxes and fliers to set up in their class to collect school supplies. When I started my goal was at least 50 kits or maybe 100. Two weeks later we had 600 kits! I am so thrilled. We have had so much fun. We went through each and every one of the 600 kits to make sure they had everything they needed. We loved looking at the cute little shoes or the cute shirts, etc., but our favorite thing to do was take out the little stuffed animal and give each one a hug. I promised my children that if they hugged the animals, their hugs would get to the children in Sri Lanka and it would be as if we were hugging the children ourselves.”

Sandy Winzenz, Ann Arbor, Michigan: “We were all so excited to participate in this great effort to help the orphaned children of Sri Lanka. We packed a whopping 61 boxes, averaging 20_30 lbs. Included were around 600 backpacks and school bags. Probably around $6000 or so of collected supplies. The Ann Arbor Michigan Stake was awesome. We all loved participating in the great project. Thank you for letting us know about it in Meridian Magazine.”

Chad Stolle, Tomball, Texas, (close to the Houston Temple): “My sister in Nashville told me about the Tsunami project that they were doing at her kids school in Tennessee.  I decided to

do a collection at the school I teach at here in Texas.  We did a collection for 1 week, and involved over 70 students, teachers and staff in the project.  On Friday the 4th of Feb. we sent 74 boxes to Operation Give in Salt Lake that weighed about 1,000 lbs. We had a few parents that went the extra mile and involved their children’s daycare and the local Wal_Mart.  The daycare (which is at a local Presbyterian church) brought in a mini_van full of donations from the kids.  Also, Wal_Mart donated $100 worth of school supplies to our collection. The Houston Chronicle newspaper caught wind of the activity through our school district and printed an article about it with photos. What a great experience for our students!  Thanks for organizing everything.” 

Freida Baudour, Wilburton, Oklahoma: “Fed Ex just left a little bit ago with  four boxes for the Operation Give campaign for Sri Lanka.  For our small Branch in Talihina, OK, we did pretty well in the  short time we had to get things all together … just one week.  We had help from our local dentist and grocery store; the rest was from our Relief Society sisters.   We had 54 health kits, 83 extra soaps, 27 children’s kits, plus 24 coloring books and 49 boxes of crayons, then a box of school supplies for which Staples helped us out a lot.  This has been a very rewarding project to work on, and we were glad to be able to be a part of helping out all those people over in Sri Lanka.   Hope we can get involved in something to help out again.  Thank you for this opportunity.”

Rachel Hansen, Eugene, Oregon: “Just wanted to let you know we got our shipment sent off tonight. We have 8 boxes on their way to you: 30 health kits, 11 children’s kits and lots of school supplies. Thanks for organizing this. It’s truly been awesome to be involved in.”

Renee Carr, Fox, Arkansas: “Thank you for the opportunity for our students to participate in relief efforts for the Sri Lanka tsunami victims.  The students from Rural Special School in Fox, Arkansas, donated items for health kits.  Our student body is small, with only about 200 students in grades K_12, but they participated in a big way.  Yesterday, on February 10th, we shipped four boxes to you via FedEx.  The boxes contain 52 complete health kits plus extra items in another box.  Thank you again.”

Shauna Woolley, Gilbert, Arizona: “Our son Matthew did the Sri Lanka project for his Eagle project and was more successful than he thought it would be.  Hooray!  It was really a neat project for him to do.  His goal was 50 of each kind of kit. He was able to complete 90 health kits, 80 children’s kits, and 3 boxes of school supplies (school bags, clocks, paper, pens and pencils).  13 boxes were shipped to Operation Give.  I personally was amazed at how generous and giving our ward members and neighbors were.  Matt was able to do this  in a two_week time period and on the day of assembly, 40 people came to  help!”

Jamie Fairbairn, San Mateo County, CA: “We sent a total of 23 boxes, with 134 health kits and 108 children’s kits.  We also sent 6 boxes of school supplies (including teacher/student bags, pens, pencils, sharpeners, writing pads, crayons/markers, and clocks), 1 box of stuffed animals, 1 box of shoes, and 1 box of T_shirts.  We had a lot of donations from stores and a  great response from our ward.  Everyone really enjoyed participating.  I’ve been contacted by other groups in our community wanting to get involved with this project as well.  Thank you so much for the opportunity to help in some way.” 

Karen Porter, Waseca, Minnesota: “I’m an LDS homeschool mom. Recently I organized a service project for our homeschool group where we put together 40 health kits for Operation Give. This was a great opportunity for all of us from different faiths to gather and teach our children about the joy of serving others. Thank you for reaching out and showing others a way to do the same.”

Kennard Family, Salt Lake City, Utah: “We read your article in Meridian Magazine, and decided to see what we could  do as a family.  Our daughter has no income; so she went through her  collection of stuffed animals and found 28 of them which still had new  tags on them  We went searching for the other items to see how many complete kits we could put together. We were able to assemble 28 combination kits which have all the items on the children’s list plus the extra items from the hygiene list. We hope that the kits bring some happiness to a few children.  Thanks for giving us this opportunity.”

Chris and Jordan West, LaGrange, Georgia: “We sent 61 health kits, 46 children’s kits and some school supplies. It feels great to have done a little bit to help out with all that needs to be done in the Tsunami Relief effort. We sure did appreciate all of the donations from the kids at LaGrange High School, West Side Magnet School, LaGrange library story time group, businesses in our community, & people at church.”

Susan, College Station, Texas: “I wanted to let you know the results of our gathering.  We shipped 87 big boxes for a total of 2900 pounds.  We had 192 children’s kits and 158 health kits.  The rest was composed of school supplies.  All was generously donated by our community within a week and a half.  I was amazed. Thank you for giving us this wonderful opportunity to do something about something so tragic and far away.  We, too, felt a bit helpless even after paying fast offerings. I can’t thank you enough.”

Renee Smith, Memphis, Tennessee: “Following is a portion of an article appearing in our local newspaper, submitted by Dan Norwood, Public Affairs Director for Memphis Tennessee Stake:

‘Local Church To Assist Sri Lanka Orphans:  After learning about Operation Give and the Fill the Plane Campaign to benefit the Tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, the Collierville Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints organized a project to gather children’s kits and health kits to send to children in Sri Lanka who were left orphaned by the Tsunami.  The bishop of the Collierville Ward, Dan Barton, donated flyers for the church members to distribute in their neighborhoods asking for donations.  Home Depot has donated the bags to hold the kits and through an agreement with Operation Give,  FedEx will ship the kits to Sri Lanka at no cost. The Church members participating in the project have spent the past week distributing the flyers and gathering the items donated for the kits.  Saturday, February the 5th members met at the Collierville Ward building to sort, package, box, label and ship the kits.   They were able to ship approximately 200 health kits, 100 children’s kits, 150 pounds of school supplies and 3 big boxes of miscellaneous items.'”

Bob and Marie Spencer, Spanish Fork Utah: “Thanks to donations of books from a school district in Eureka, Utah we were able to send 73 boxes of books to the schools in Sri Lanka.  Several people from our ward came and helped sort the books into grades and categories and box them for shipping.  Many of these same volunteers and others donated items for children’s and health kits – two van loads full of items! Thanks for this great opportunity to serve.”

In Conclusion

Many more dedicated people sent reports.  One caller touched us deeply when she said, “A family in our ward took their food money for a week and bought supplies for the kits for the children of the Tsunami disaster.”  Another sister called and said, “I have been very depressed lately.  This project has given me a reason to live.  Thank you!” 

With all our hearts we thank all of you who so generously gave of your time and means to bless the lives of these precious children in Sri Lanka.  Thank you to Paul Holton, Scott Evenson and their crew at Operation Give for their countless hours of help.  And thank you to Meridian Magazine, without which there would have been no project.  Most of all we thank Heavenly Father for answering our prayers, your prayers, and Asim’s prayers.  This has given us all a small taste of the fruits of living our Savior’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”