When Cortland Humanitarian Outreach Worldwide (CHOW) was founded in June, 1999 by an enthusiastic group of people from LOAF churches, the mission they developed was to fairly distribute to developing countries the world’s unused, discarded goods from the wealthy United States. The group later expanded its mission to include local organizations and an organization in an Appalachian area of Kentucky. In addition to sending valuable supplies to people in need, the group wanted to keep usable, but unwanted supplies out of the U.S. landfills.
As CHOW volunteers began identifying needs and organizing collection efforts, it was discovered that Kosovan refugees were in desperate need of hygiene supplies. With a strong desire to provide aid and an excitement for a first project, CHOW aggressively collected 350 hygiene kits and twenty boxes of miscellaneous hygiene supplies, exceeding their expectations. The few medical supplies donated by a local hospital were sent to Matthew 25 Ministries in Cincinnati who was sending a full shipment overseas.
Fueled by the success of its first project, CHOW charged ahead and collected student and teacher desks donated by local schools who were replacing their old furniture. On a frigid January day in 2000, dedicated volunteers gathered at an Austintown warehouse to load 142 student desks, 139 individual student kits, and miscellaneous educational and medical equipment onto a tractor-trailer donated by Chiquita. Overwhelmed by passionate feelings of accomplishment and a strong desire that the shipment would enhance the lives of the recipients, the volunteers watched the driver close the doors on the full container. The supplies were transported to a port in Delaware where they were put on a ship that delivered them to El Salvador. Including this first delivery, forty-two shipments totaling 7,972 student desks and supplies for 8,044 students have been sent to new and existing schools in fourteen different countries, most of them in Central America.
In an effort to widen its recipient base and meet local needs, CHOW contacted Beatitude House, an organization that provides support for disadvantaged women in Trumbull and Mahoning Counties. Potter’s Wheel, the education branch of Beatitude House, has an ongoing need for beginner education kits. Since September, 2001, CHOW has provided 133 kits each of which includes a canvas bag, binders, highlighters, pens, pencils, paper, folders, and notebooks. These kits are important tools needed to begin the educational process that empowers and prepares the women for successful futures.
The next addition to the widening recipient base was the Grahn School Community Center, an Appalachian area of Kentucky. During a rapid decline, the community lost a brick manufacturing business, and eventually the local school closed scattering the children to other school districts. The school building is now the community center which houses a food pantry, library, and thrift shop. It provides many programs for area families, especially programs that promote literacy. CHOW volunteers travel to Grahn twice a year to take food for the food pantry, used clothing, furniture and household goods for the thrift shop, new items for Christmas gifts, and books for the library and women’s reading club. Since October, 2001, 36 trips have been made to deliver goods. Because of CHOW’s ability to personally deliver the needed supplies, CHOW volunteers have built a strong relationship with the Grahn community.
The satisfaction of knowing how the organization helps other people who are less fortunate provides CHOW volunteers with the motivation to continue the mission. The director of the Grahn School Community Center expressed appreciation in a note which said, “You all are truly a shining light and all of us here in the Grahn Community are blessed by that light.” A note from one of the recipients of desks in Central America stated, “Kids in remote areas of Panama, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, etc, are sitting on desks that will last many years thanks to the hard work and dedication of members of CHOW.” As apparent in the appreciation of these individuals and groups, every CHOW volunteer, regardless of the extent of his or her contributions, experiences the satisfaction of knowing that his or her efforts contribute to improving the lives of others.