Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Unit Cpl. Brad Smith helps load cleaning and hygiene items to be shipped to the Balkans. Supplies to fill a 40-foot shipping container were collected locally in about a two-week span. (Special Photo)
LAWRENCEVILLE — Cpl. Brad Smith lived and worked in Bosnia for half a decade, part of an international police task force helping the region recover from a tumultuous war that ended in 1995.
At least according to an email from his former commander, the current situation in the Balkans — flooding and landslides and displaced landmines — may prove even more disastrous.
“He said this is worse than any four years of war,” said Smith, a retired Gwinnett County police officer and member of the sheriff’s office’s reserve unit. “These people are devastated.”
Thanks to Smith, the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, the local Bosnian community and the Catholic World Mission, a little more help will be on the way soon.
According to media reports, at least 74 people were killed and nearly 900,000 people were evacuated last month after torrential rains caused extreme flooding in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. An estimated 1,400 landslides occurred in Bosnia alone and many residents have been left without electricity and other basic necessities. Authorities are worried that active landmines leftover from war times, which had been located and labeled, have been dislodged by flood waters.
The situation grabbed Smith’s attention and, over the last two weeks or so, enough supplies have been collected in Gwinnett to fill an entire 40-foot shipping container. Primarily items for babies and other hygiene products — everything from diapers and baby food to soap, detergent and shampoo — will depart for the effected area of southeastern Europe on Friday.
The collection efforts were coordinated by Smith, Gwinnett sheriff’s Deputy Trenell Bullock, Lawrenceville’s Bosnian Community Center and the Catholic World Mission. The latter also donated “high-value pharmaceuticals to re-stock hospitals” and is footing the bill for the container’s shipment.
Metro Atlanta has the third-largest Bosnian community in the United States. Smith said about 20,000 Bosnians live in Gwinnett County.
“It was unbelievable how the community turned out,” said Smith, adding that employees of the Merry Maids franchises he operates also chipped in. “It was fantastic.”
Those interested in contributing can still donate at catholicworldmission.org/donate/flooding-balkans-disaster-relief. A report from the Wall Street Journal estimated that a combined $4.5 billion had been incurred in Serbia and Bosnia.
“We all need to keep coming together to help them,” Smith said. “The problem that they’re faced with is a long-term problem.”