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Members of the Sharpsburg-Aspinwall Rotary this month collected a truck full of medical equipment to ship to the nation of Georgia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, but hit a roadblock when it came time to make the delivery.

"I had never even heard of Georgia," Rotary President Don Friedman said. "Apparently, it's like the Wild West. No one will ship there."

Or so he thought.

Friedman found a Virginia-based relief effort called Counterpart International that works to provide supplies to those in need in various parts of the world.

The group has worked in 65 countries with the hope of building sustainable communities. Members have been working in Georgia since 1995, with a focus on food and nutrition, economic development and government.

Georgia is located along the Black Sea and hemmed in by Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is an impoverished nation where, Friedman said, people lack access to basic medical items such as crutches, wheelchairs and walkers.

"When the Soviets left, they took everything with them. My physical therapist traveled there and said in their biggest functioning hospital, they couldn't even find one wheelchair," Friedman said.

Rotary members wasted no time in lending a hand; they collected more than 100 walkers and 80 pair of crutches.

They met last week to clean the items and repair some that were damaged. "We power-washed them and labeled them, and then we packed them up," said John Arch, a Sharpsburg-based attorney and longtime Rotary member.

But that wasn't the last of it.

Friedman had to drive the load to a North Carolina warehouse to be packaged with other Counterpart International shipments.

"It's one of the punishments I get for leaving everything to the last minute," Friedman said, with a laugh. "I was getting ready to leave for vacation, and it had to be done." The group received a $900 grant from Rotary International to help purchase additional items and help pay for transportation costs.

Arch said the dozen or so members of the local Rotary are no strangers to public service. With the club motto of "Service Above Self," members deliver hot meals to shut-ins every week, host a monthly bingo for the patients at the Veterans Affairs hospital in O'Hara, and participate in both Guyasuta Days and Fall in the Wall festivities.

Friedman said this project was an eye-opener for the members.

"I don't think any of us had a fair comprehension of what's happening in the former Soviet states," he said.

The supplies will be taken to a hospital in Tbilisi, Georgia, for distribution.

"There, they have one walker. Now they will have close to 100," Friedman said. "It will make a big difference."

Arch agreed. He said it's a great feeling to help people who have so much less.

"For years, they had absolutely nothing," he said. "We take for granted these things. Crutches are a simple thing. You think everyone around the world would have access to them, but they literally crawl around the ground if they're not able to get around."

This article appeared in the July 2, Tribune Review. Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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