Two Cent Bridge Kotlas - Waterville Area
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The "Container Project," 1991-1992

By Gregor Smith

Following the return of the mayor's delegation to Kotlas in July 1991, the, Kotlas Committee felt the need to move beyond simply exchanging delegations to projects with greater and longer lasting impact. Its members had been debating various possibilities, until, at the September meeting, a visitor suggested something that had not occurred to any of them — inspired by a Morning Sentinel editorial encouraging Americans to send packages of food to Moscow, he proposed sending a whole cargo container of food to Kotlas.

The container project was by far the most expensive and time-consuming endeavor undertaken by the sister-city committee to date. Committee members and other volunteers spent hundreds of hours soliciting donations, packing boxes, taking inventory, and deciding exactly which donated items would go to each of the eighteen institutions (fourteen schools, two orphanages, one home for the mentally retarded, and one hospital) that would receive the aid.

The Committee raised over $8000 in cash, including $2000 from an anonymous donor, $1500 from the Waterville Rotary Club (an ally from the pairing's earliest days in 1983), and $1001.37 in pennies from high school and junior high school students. The Committee also received several hundred thousand dollars' worth of donated goods and services from drug companies, hospitals, a drug-store chain, a shipping company, a moving company, local merchants, and schoolchildren, who collected flour sugar, macaroni, tuna fish, and other groceries. The most unusual donation was five dozen boxes of Snickers and almond M&M's from the M&M Mars Co.

At the end of March, the container was finally ready to leave Waterville. On a warm, sunny morning, under the glare of television lights, workers at warehouse where the boxes of aid were being stored expertly packed the 613 boxes (1100 ft3) of food, medicine, medical supplies, clothing, and school supplies into the container. Committee members who watched were amazed that it all fit. The container, which was on the back of a truck, was then driven to Portland, where it was placed on a transoceanic cargo ship with two other containers from Portland for Portland's sister city, Archangel.

Five weeks later, on May 4, the container arrived in Kotlas. It had traveled by sea from Portland to Archangel (with a stop in Antwerp) and then by rail from Archangel to Kotlas. Two members of the Kotlas Committee, Chairman David Hanson and his wife, Pat, were at the railway station to meet the container and help distribute its contents. The Hansons labored long hours with the members of a specially appointed city commission to insure that each box went where it was supposed to go. On May 10, the Hansons returned, triumphant. The project had been a great success.