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Globe-trotters bound for Russia to aid orphans

It's not too late to sign up for an October trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, where volunteers will deliver supplies to orphanages.

Published July 12, 2004

Poor nutrition. Not enough medicine. Insufficient warm clothing.

Those were some of the needs Lee Heath saw when she first visited Russian orphanages during a homestay exchange with Friendship Force International in the early 1990s.

So touched was she by the orphans' plight that Heath, 78, of Seminole, has returned to Russia several times with other Friendship Force ambassadors to bring various orphanages clothes, toys, medical supplies and money.

While many orphanages in Russia suffer from great want, Heath's past four trips have concentrated on three specific orphanages in St. Petersburg, Russia, where she has gotten attached to the children.

"It's difficult to understand such great need if you haven't seen it for yourself," she said. Russia's poor economy and lack of social service networks leave many children, even those in institutions, without necessities.

"The government doesn't have the money to give the children proper nutrition," she said. "Consequently, these children do not attain their full stature."

With even basics hard to come by, Heath and her group are essential. In the past they provided necessities as simple as underwear, vitamins, medicines and notebooks.

This year Heath plans to again lead a Friendship Force group to St. Petersburg, Russia, where she and others will bring packed suitcases of donations to the children. They also will bring money for medical supplies and other needs. Participants on the trip will also enjoy a one-week homestay with a Russian family and visit several famous sights, including St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Hermitage and the Grand Catherine Palace.

Marge Pease, a Friendship Force ambassador from Tarpon Springs, went on the St. Petersburg trip in November 2003.

A recent Peace Corps volunteer, Pease, 79, was moved by both the great need of the orphanages she visited and the gratitude of the orphans. Now she is planning her own Russian orphanage trip. She will be leading a group to Moscow in May 2005. She, too, is inviting Friendship Force members from around the world, as well as nonmembers, to participate.

Kenneth Dean, 74, president of the Friendship Force of the Suncoast, supports both goodwill missions and the homestay exchanges that originally led to awareness of the plight of Russian orphans.

"Conditions of the orphanages remain substandard, and the needs of the children remain acute, therefore the project has been continued," he said. "This year Friendship Force is also soliciting shoes, educational toys, new or good used clothing and money for the Moscow orphanage."

The St. Petersburg trip costs $1,395 from New York and is scheduled for Oct. 20-28, with an optional extension for an additional $650. Friendship Force organizers said membership is not necessary to participate.

The Moscow trip is planned for May 20 to June 1, 2005. Other details of the Moscow trip will be worked out shortly.

Founded in 1977, Friendship Force International's goal is "building global goodwill through personal friendships." Its purpose is to create friendships among people of different nations that would be not only personally enriching for participants, but also would contribute to peace on a broad scale. It now has clubs in more than 350 communities in more than 60 countries.

The local chapter, Friendship Force of Florida Suncoast, meets every two months on the third Saturday at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 10891 102nd Ave. N, Seminole. Picnics and cultural events are often planned for alternating months.

[Last modified July 12, 2004, 01:00:30]

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