When luggage goes missing at the Olympics
When Madagascan Olympic athletes, team officials and families landed at Luton with no luggage, it was the churches that sprang to their aid.
The international travellers, who arrived over two consecutive days, had expected their 26 bags to automatically follow when transferring from Paris. But they ended up with their carry-on bags and no more.
However, on hand were representatives from More Than Gold, an agency helping churches serve others through the 2012 Games. At the airport they helped the distressed visitors with all the negotiations needed to locate their bags.
Meanwhile, standing by to provide hospitality for athlete family members through More Than Gold’s Athlete Family Homestay Programme was Sister Anne Spilberg. She was to open her door to find more guests than expected with only the clothes they stood up in.
On the second day this included parents with a one year-old baby.
"We did what we could immediately," says Sister Anne. But the following day she took the need to those meeting at the nearby Brentwood Catholic Church.
"People were overwhelmingly generous," she says.
"Someone instantly gave us a cheque for £100 – which we used for food, toiletries and nappies. Others dashed to the shops and returned with so many clothes we had 20 bags of them."
Said David Willson, CEO of More Than Gold, "When people from the churches signed up to support athletes families, there was no expectation this could also involve sorting out lost luggage of Olympians. Or helping to find alternative clothing and other items. But our people rose to the challenge."
The President of the Madagascar Olympic Committee, Solo Siteny, praised the help his countrymen had received. He said, "This has been really helpful as these athletes did not fly into one of the official airports. I really respect what More Than Gold have done for us. We are so grateful."
Even now, four bags are somewhere between Paris and Luton. And More Than Gold had despatched a team member to the French airport to continue the rescue operation.
"We are committed to sticking with this until the job is done," added David Willson.
The island nation of Madagascar has seven athletes competing at the London 2012 Olympics, in athletics, swimming, wrestling and judo.
More Than Gold’s Athlete Family Home Stay programme allows friends and relations of athletes to see their loved ones competing without having to pay for accommodation.
Added David Willson: "We know the bags will turn up eventually, and the immediate issue of the lost luggage will fade into memory. But I hope that the response from the volunteers will remain a lifelong memory."