Like so many people, Chantilly Highlands' Barbara Clougherty, Virginia Run's Kelly Schmank, and Franklin Farm's Kitty Lochbaum, wanted to help the children whose orphanage in Sri Lanka was destroyed by the devastating Dec. 26 tsunami.
But these three, caring women translated their thoughts into action, quickly put together a fund-raising auction attended by 300 people and, by Saturday night, had amassed a whopping $12,000 in cash and pledges for the orphanage.
"MY GOAL was $5,000, so we're all feeling great that it was such a successful event — we're just thrilled," said Clougherty. "We did it all in four days, and every penny will go to the orphanage."
Dayalan Sanders, an American citizen born in Sri Lanka, sold his home in Gaithersburg, Md., and founded The Samaritan Children's Home in 1994 in Navalady, a small fishing village on Sri Lanka's eastern peninsula. The orphanage housed 28 children and was also involved in community-development projects to help the local poor.
On Christmas day, the orphanage hosted a dinner for 250 guests. Afterward, Sanders, 50, was so tired that night that he forgot to remove the motor from the orphanage's launch, as he usually did, so it wouldn't be stolen.
But that proved fortuitous because, the next morning — as a 30-foot wall of water from the Indian Ocean headed for shore — the Fiberglas boat was ready to go when he, his wife Kohila, their daughter Hadassah, 3, staff and the 28 orphans scrambled into it. Even its usually temperamental engine started on the first pull of its cord.
They escaped into the nearby lagoon and arrived safely in the city of Batticaloa, 1 1/2 miles away, on the opposite shore. But with no insurance and the orphanage decimated, Sanders' sister Diyana — an elementary-school counselor in Gaithersburg — estimates that her brother will need $400,000 to rebuild and re-equip the orphanage and purchase a four-wheel-drive vehicle for transportation.
So she established The Samaritan Home Relief, a nonprofit organization with an account at Chevy Chase Bank, to receive contributions for the orphanage. And the federal government declared last week that donations given for tsunami victims may be deducted on 2004 income-tax returns.
LOCALLY, contributions payable to The Samaritan Home Relief may be sent to Barbara Clougherty, 3043 Jeannie Anna Court, Oak Hill, VA 20171. And it is to this fund that all proceeds from Saturday's event in Virginia Run will go.
"Oh, wow — that is a lot of money," said Diyana, Monday afternoon, after learning of the Centreville fund-raiser's success. "That's so nice of them to do; they really did a wonderful job. I have no words to express how I feel. People that I don't know have gone so much out of their way to help them to have their home back, and it makes me feel so warm."
The fund-raiser, held at the Virginia Run Community Center, came about after Clougherty and her husband Bill read about the orphanage in the newspaper. "Our fifth child is adopted from China," she said. "So we looked at each other and said, 'If anybody is gonna help this orphanage, we have to.'"
She called Diyana and sent her a check for the orphanage. Then the Cloughertys went to the Lochbaums' home for a New Year's Eve dinner party and related Sanders' story of hope and heroism.
A few days later, Kitty Lochbaum called Clougherty and told her that her friend, Claire Neal in Kentucky, had a fund-raiser in her house for the tsunami victims. Said Clougherty: "Kitty said, 'I think we need to do it, too — and soon.'" Clougherty then called her friend Kelly Schmank, and the three women decided to hold a fund-raiser, Saturday, Jan. 8.
"Claire is 75, and I thought, 'If she can do something, we can, too,'" said Lochbaum. "Then Kelly and Barbara took the ball and ran with it. We hope it'll spread and people in other towns will hold similar fund-raisers. When I heard about the orphanage, it was someone specific that we could help. It made it more personal to help one, little place, and I wanted to do something more than just write a check."
What propelled Clougherty, she said, was "hearing on the radio about the trafficking and abuse of children. I knew I had to join in [the fund-raiser], too." The trio met last Tuesday, Jan. 4, and planned a wine-and-cheese reception where people could drop off checks for the relief fund. But when they called neighbors and businesses to invite them, people kept offering to donate items for an auction.
"When we called Sen. John Warner's (R-Va.) office to say, 'Here's what we're doing; can you support us?' Sen. Warner said he had a painting to offer," said Schmank. "We said, 'Thanks, but no thanks; we're not having an auction.'"
"THEN MY neighbor said, 'I have a painting and two rooms at the Marriott to donate,' and we still said no," said Clougherty. "Then on Thursday [Jan. 6], Lowe's gave us $500 to buy merchandise to donate. That turned the tide, and we decided to hold an auction."
From there, things quickly shifted into high gear, and two published authors joined the cause. Schmank knows Rocky Run's Julie Sussman, who wrote "Dare to Repair," a home-repair guide, with Stephanie Glakas-Tenet. And Sussman knows former Clifton resident Jeffery Deaver — the prolific and highly successful author of several mysteries, including "The Bone Collector."
Sussman's publisher, HarperCollins, contributed 20 copies of "Dare to Repair" to be sold at the event, and Deaver offered to include the highest bidder by name as a character in his next novel.
Actually, it was Sussman who obtained Lowe's donation. She and her co-author are national spokeswomen for Lowes' underwriting of the Lowes/Women Build division of Habitat for Humanity and, when Sussman told Lowe's about the fund-raiser, it volunteered the money.
"I got $500 worth of merchandise from the Chantilly Lowe's," she said. "And I think everyone should patronize a company that supports its community so well."
In addition, said Clougherty, "People who read the fund-raiser notice in [the Jan. 6] Centre View, called Kelly and I, unsolicited, to donate money and items for the auction. Then Saturday afternoon, [Virginia Run's] Greg Richter brought us two Krups coffee makers, a Rowenta iron and a KitchenAid mixer to auction off."
She, Schmank and Lochbaum e-mailed friends about the event, and word then spread through other groups and communities, include St. Timothy's and the Greenbriar West swim team. They also distributed fliers and e-mails to people in Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, Manassas, Oakton, Gainesville, South Riding, Oak Hill, Herndon and Reston.
On Friday, Jan. 7, they called back people to accept the donations they'd earlier refused, and Clougherty drove to Richmond to pick up the painting — which Warner had done, himself. She also asked her friend Lisa Kearns of Chantilly Highlands to call restaurants and ice-cream places for donations.
SO, SAID Clougherty, "She took her four children — the oldest is 6 — out in the rain and got almost $500 worth of donations. And we needed everything immediately — it was really amazing."
Kearns went to the Franklin Farm Village Center and the Town of Herndon. Contributions she obtained included: A complete dinner for two with wine from San Vito Italian Restaurant; $25 gift card from Giant; 30-piece party platter from Subway; sports bag, Cassel's Sporting Goods; free-drink coupons, Starbuck's; a big basket of breads, Great Harvest Bread Co.; lunch for two, Ice House Cafe; and $50 gift certificate, Zeffirelli's.
Clougherty got Barnes & Noble to donate some books, plus a poster signed by professional basketball player Grant Hill. She also got Trader Joe's to contribute three cases of wine for the reception. Greenbriar's Denise Pitts obtained donations from businesses in the Greenbriar Town Center, and Lochbaum got contributions from BJ's and Costco.
"When Kelly called and asked if I could round up things for the auction, I couldn't say no — given that the children they're helping need so much," said Pitts. "I just said, 'Tell me what to do, when, and I'll do it.'" Meanwhile, St. Timothy mom Mary Kay Rogowski called businesses to drum up support and also got sandwiches from Costco to serve at the auction. Area residents also brought food, that night.
Gourmet cook Melissa McKee of Virginia Run donated a gift basket of spices from her business, Bull Run Rub, and neighbor Barbara Hurst contributed a $100 gift certificate for Mary Kay Cosmetics. And Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) volunteered to have an American flag flown over the state capital on a specific date and then presented to the person who'd bid on it.
Although they'd all "cried and prayed" after learning about the tsunami, explained Kearns, participating in the fund-raiser was something tangible they could do. "Everyone we talked to was happy to have something to do about it," she said. Added Clougherty: "People I talked to thanked me for asking them to help."
Some 300 people attended the fund-raiser, with Oak Hill's John Grady serving as auctioneer. "This is going to be a wonderful evening," he told the crowd. "Thank you all for coming and for your support."
Everything up for bid sold. Sen. Warner's painting of a flower brought in $125, and a large original oil paining of a scene in France garnered $550. The Jeffery Deaver mention in a novel went for $400 — and then a second person matched that offer — so both people will be in the novel and the item raised $800.
SARAH SHEA of Walney Glen brought her family to the auction. "My kids wanted to do something, and this directly affects other children," she said. Son Patrick, 11, wanted her to bid on an MP3 player, and son Brendan, 7, had fun eating candy from the buffet. Shea bought the MP3 for $200 for the sons to share.
Adding to the evening's entertainment were Chantilly's Patty Laing, singing; Zach See, 15, playing the violin; and Brian McCrum of Clifton, doing a magic show for the children. West Centreville's Station 38 brought a fire engine, and parents did face painting. And several children made a poster to be laminated and sent to children from the orphanage.
"What's so touching is that this is reaching out to humanity — to those who've lost parents and siblings," said Schmank, noting the many ways individual people are helping. "Tony Davis, who's a Cub Scout leader at Greenbriar West, said his pack will give the proceeds from its pinewood derby to the orphanage. And Kendall Watson of Virginia Run will be 14 in April. She's having a dance party for her birthday and, instead of people bringing gifts, they'll bring donations for the fund."
"It was my mom's idea," said Kendall, an eighth-grader at St. Timothy School. "Last time, I got a lot of presents, so we figured the children who have nothing would need something more than I would." Added Schmank: "I'm so excited that the kids are bringing their piggy banks and doing these things because it's a teachable moment. It implants that spirit in them to be the next generation of doers that'll roll up its sleeves and get things done."
She's also pleased that the fund-raiser drew people from many different areas. "It's just one, small thing," she said. "But just imagine what could happen if everyone did things like this. The orphanage will still need money for a long time."
Anyone wishing to help raise funds for the orphanage in any other way may e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The orphans are currently living in several, temporary places. Diyana Sanders said her brother is "frustrated because he's having a hard time renting a place for 28 children. He tried to buy, but people are jacking up the prices, so it's difficult."
However, she said, he never dreamed he'd really be able to rebuild the orphanage, so he's "overwhelmed" by the outpouring of others' generosity. "He's encouraged by it, and it gives him and all of them hope," said Sanders. As for residents here and their fund-raising efforts, she said, "It sounds like an amazing community."