Before we do anything else about Gifts for Gracias each year, our family has to decide whether or not to continue the project for another year. We revisit this question every year. It is an expensive project, but more than that, it takes a vast amount of time; for us, and for our volunteers in the US. Is this project worth the money and effort, or should we use our resources in a different direction? So far, we've chosen to continue, though rising costs of shipping and fewer people working on our end of things (now that many of the children are grown and moved out) make it a tougher decision than it was before. However, challenging economic times also increase the value of the gifts to the recipients, so that factors into the equation, as well.
Once we've made the decision to continue this tradition, arrangements can begin to be made. We need to have locations to receive the donations - and it takes a mountain of donations to fill a 40' shipping container! We are blessed to have volunteers in Florida and Maryland who give up space in their churches and in their homes, garages and sheds every year for this project! You people know who you are - but this includes the Cofer family, the Richards family, and Fredericktowne Baptist Church in Maryland, my parents and the Linden family in Florida.
Once the locations are set, it's time to get the word out about the project - which we do through the blog, Facebook, and emails. Donations are collected locally, and also come to us through the mail, nationally and even internationally! I remember the first time I opened a batch of gifts donated by a family in Japan to be given to people in Honduras - that was about the coolest thing ever! With the magic that is Amazon, lots of donors purchase gift items online and send them to us without ever seeing or touching the gifts themselves.
A few months before the container ships, the donations which have been collected in Florida travel by rented truck up I-95 to Maryland, so that everything is in one place when the time comes to fill the shipping container. In the past, we've had some donations to pick up at various locations along the way between Florida and Maryland, though this year that wasn't the case. Perhaps some church, group, or individual in that part of the country would like to volunteer to collect gifts and donations for 2015? We'd love the help!
While all of these donated items are rolling in, our intrepid volunteers in Maryland do more than just store them. They sort out things which don't fit the guidelines for the project, they organize items into categories and label the boxes, and they pack the boxes so they are as full as can be, and tape them well for shipping!
Finally, when there are enough donations collected - and the timing on this tends to vary each year - the loading of the container is scheduled! We ship our donations with Dole - the same company that ships fruit north from Honduras. We get a special charitable rate, and they have one less empty container they have to ship back south!
We set the date, and the shipping company sets the time. We also manage a lot of the paperwork for getting the shipment through Honduran customs at this point in the process. You'd be surprised to learn how much paperwork, how many letters written and translated and signed and notarized and rejected and redone and FedEx-ed are involved in this process! But eventually all the plans are in place for the loading and shipping.
The shipping company gives a window of time when the truck can be expected to arrive on the assigned day. Volunteers gather and wait. Once the truck and container arrive, we are allotted two hours to load the whole thing. Going beyond that time limit costs extra - and we don't like to pay extra - so the crew gets right to work. There's a need for speed, plus it seems to snow on the loading day pretty frequently, so the workers like to get this done as quickly as possible.
The loading has taken place in different locations over the years. Some years there has been heavy equipment involved to help with the loading - and other years the equipment was being loaded and sent to us! This year there was no snow, very little construction equipment, and no spools of cable for building bridges, so the process may have been a bit simpler . . .
For instance, last year:
Part 2 coming soon: Getting the donations from the ship, to our home, and then into the hands of the recipients! Thanks for reading through this long post!