The Beirut box story is one of violence, intrigue, loss and some would say, a miracle.
It starts in the Victoria suburb of Esquimalt and, as yet, has no end, according to lead storyteller Dell Marie Wergeland.
The 40-foot shipping container stuffed with much-needed equipment, clothing and medical supplies headed for Lebanon in October 2019. Carefully planned and packed at Compassionate Resource Warehouse in Esquimalt, where Wergeland is president, it was sent overseas to help thousands of people living in a Syrian refugee camp a few hours outside of Beirut, Lebanon.
On its arrival, customs officials upped the price they wanted to release the container. So it sat in the port.
In August 2020, an explosion ripped through the port and killed at least 180 people and injured more than 6,000.
The warehouse team assumed the container was gone.
In January 2021 she received unbelievable and overwhelming news. While digging through the twisted mess of the port, crews found the container – intact. It remained in remarkable shape, with just slightly more rust.
It took some time to get it out to the refugee camp and open. First there was an official who made off with the large item, but the novelty of finding it was widespread news, so police recovered the 40-foot steel container.
Then, amid gas shortages, those making the three- to four-hour delivery to the refugee camp needed to save up fuel for the trip.
When it arrived, the opening was recorded and shared. Everyone involved can’t help watching it repeatedly, Wergeland said.
In the video, the doors swing open and stuffed animals, filling all gaps and spaces, are pulled and flung into the crowd. Everything inside is OK. But for a few rattled boxes, the sewing, construction and salon equipment sent to help set up skill development programs are fine; clothing and school supplies, all ready for wear and use.
And they’re coming at a divine time, Wergeland said.
When they sent the shipment the need was great. Post-explosion, things were even worse. At this point, it’s desperate, she said.
Even the container will be put to use, with one-half housing a skill development program, and the other a school.
The feeling of joy and relief remains permeable through the warehouse workers, according to the president.
In the past, the Compassionate Warehouse Resource has sent 25 to 30 of the large packages a year. This year they’ve sent 14, and they’re ecstatic about it given COVID-19 pandemic impacts. They’re down to 70 or 80 volunteers, working in teams under health protocols at the warehouse, with some working at home.
Those looking to donate can find the current needs list, and contact online at crwarehouse.ca.
Even as they fill the next container, bound for Kenya, the story of that 2019 Beirut box remains unfinished, Wergeland said. “We’re wondering what’s next? What will the impact be?”