Bellingham, Washington; 26 June 1998 (RFE/RL) --A 10-meter shipping container filled with new clothing and toys donated by the Disney Corporation's popular children's shops left Thursday from Florida.
Its contents are destined for orphaned children in Romania -- the offspring of the population policy of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to increase Romania's census by banning birth control.
Behind that shipment, and more help to come, is a not-for-profit entity called Kidstown Romania, based in the Pacific Northwest coastal city of Bellingham, Washington.
Kidstown is the creation of a man named Mike Hollander, a real-estate investor who owns the tallest building in town, Bellingham Towers, who has become the father of three 13-year-old Romanian boys, with a fourth child being processed for adoption.
Hollander was drawn to Romania little more than half a dozen years ago. The connection came through a minister of the Christian Reformed Church to which he belongs in the nearby town of Lynden, a closely knit dairy community, settled a century ago largely by Dutch immigrants, near the border separating Washington state from Canada.
The minister asked Hollander if he would accompany a Romanian immigrant who wished to return to his native country after Ceausescu's execution on Christmas Day 1989, but who would feel more secure if he was with a citizen of the United States.
That visit was when Hollander met some of the "children of Ceausesceu. The investor's life has not been the same since. And Kidstown Romania -- and the growing Hollander family of Romanian-Americans -- is the result of that experience.
Kidstown's director, Teresa Palmer, tells RFE/RL that the organization, based on the eighth floor of Hollander's Bellingham Towers, raises money to provide food, clothing, tools and educational equipment for Romania's orphans. Palmer herself will meet that container in Romania this summer and supervise distribution of its contents among seven or eight state-run orphanages and the privately run Bethesda Home in Zsobok.
Palmer has organized a concert, arranged a donation of 500 ski jackets from the Canadian resort community of Whistler, 200 kms away, and conducted a dinner auction that, alone, raised $20,000 for Kidstown Romania.
More money will be raised this weekend when 150 vintage automobiles go on display outside Bellingham Towers in the first of what will be an annual "Cruzin' the Towers" auto show and fund-raiser. That event alone is expected to cover the cost of shipping the donated Disney goods to Romania.
Since that initial visit in 1991, Hollander has visited Romania about twice a year. He hired Palmer last year to run his newly organized Kidstown Romania. And this transplanted Southern Californian, who has promoted everything from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games to the Academy Awards ceremony from her former base in Beverly Hills, saw her opportunity as an answer to a prayer after being appalled by a television report of the orphans' plight and wanting to do something, as she says, "to make a difference."
Her answer, she says, came in the form of Hollander's challenge. Palmer's immediate goal now is to parlay Kidstown Romania into a nationwide network of organizations dedicated to giving "Ceausescu's children" a chance in life.
To Hollander, his involvement on behalf of the orphans is not optional. "We need to be there," he insists. He considers this part of the heritage of the Christian Reformed Churches.
Palmer says the private Bethesda Home shows what can be done to provide a nurturing environment for orphaned children. She hopes her visit in August, during which she plans to make a promotional video to spread the word about Kidstown Romania, will prompt donors such as Disney and the Global Relief Fund to support these needy young Romanians, as she says, "container by container."