MURRAY Hand-printed labels on hundreds of boxes piled upstairs in a warehouse spell it all out: "Coats & Large Toys," "Stuffed Animals & Balls," "Blankets," "Toys," "Ladies Clothes," "Purses & Bags," "Mens Clothes," "Girls Clothes."
Many are covered in clear wrap and labeled "Ready to Go." They have been ready for two months, without going.
The boxes and occasional plastic bags are piled onto an estimated 70 shipping pallets. All are donations to help residents of Iraq, but they have been piling up in the warehouse because of a shipping hang-up.
Paul Holton, the Utah National Guard chief warrant officer who gained fame during his 12-month Iraq stint as the articulate blogger "Chief Wiggles," is the driving force behind Operation Give. The project is an effort to help Iraqis with necessities, plus toys to comfort the children.
Now Holton stood amid the warehouse pallets, speaking about his frustration with the bottleneck that temporarily stopped the flow of these thousands of gifts to the Middle East.
"We've got a whole team of people in Baghdad waiting for this stuff," he said. Finally, though, the bottleneck is broken, and the material will begin moving again in a few days.
But in the meantime Operation Give has lost nearly $50,000 that could have been better spent helping the people of Iraq.
The background to the halt is that three 40-foot containers filled with contributions were sent to Kuwait en route to Iraq. But once they arrived in Kuwait, a company there needed a $10,000 deposit per container before it would take them into Iraq, he said.
The deposit was to guarantee that the Kuwaiti company did not lose its investment in the containers during the potentially hazardous trip to Baghdad Operation Give brought checks for $10,000 and $20,000 to the U.S. shipping company, to be forwarded to Kuwait. The checks cleared on June 18. But the three containers continued to sit in Kuwait.
Operation Give tried to get its deposit back and ran into snags. More gifts kept arriving, stacking up in donated space in the Bridgepoint Systems warehouse.
In July, the shipping company sent Operation Give a check to repay the deposit, Holton said, "but there was no money in the bank to cover the check." The charity apparently is out $30,000 that kindly people had donated to help Iraqis.
Operation Give contacted an attorney and the Attorney General's Office in the state where the company is located.
On Monday, the Deseret Morning News attempted to telephone the shipping company, but the call was not immediately returned.
Military officials stepped in to help. They had the items in Kuwait picked up this week, unloading the material from the original containers, placing them in their own and sending them to Baghdad. So in the future, deposits will be a moot issue.
But while the items were waiting in Kuwait, Operation Give incurred another $16,000 in port fees and storage charge. The embroglio has cost the charity $46,000 so far.
Thousands of items in the warehouse still have not been shipped, although they should be on the way soon.
"It's moving," Holton said Monday. "It's going to move in a few days."
Holton thinks about three more 40-foot containers could be filled with these gifts.
The halt in the flow "has been difficult to deal with. A lot of people give us this stuff in hopes it gets right over there, and it hasn't."Comment on this story
Now, new ways are opening to get the material overseas. FedEx, for which Holton works, will take it to a port for free, on a space-available basis. Shipping from the port costs about $3,500 to $4,000 per container.
"And then the Army picks it up at the other end, in Kuwait, and that helps to get it to Baghdad," he said. "Otherwise, we wouldn't be getting it in."
Unfortunately, after the expensive dispute, Operation Give is "running out of money, that's the problem," he added.Anyone wishing to help the charity with a cash donation can e-mail Holton at email@example.com or visit the charity's Web site, Operationgive.org.