- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

MUNSTER, Ind. (AP) - For more than 20 years, a group of Chicago area Serbian-Americans has shipped packages across the ocean, providing Christmas gifts to orphans and children living in shelters.

Then, about three years ago, Rade Savich, of Carmel, Indiana, asked if there was room in the shipping container for some baseball gear. He’d led a drive to collect baseball equipment after seeing a request from the Serbian national team on Facebook.

Melanie Sever, treasurer of Lifeline Chicago, told him: sure, but there’s a catch.

The humanitarian group, formed in 1993 to help Serbians dealing with the bombing and political strife in their country, provides gifts of shoes, socks and clothing, to 500 children living in orphanages in Serbia. They also provide gifts given to 1,200 children at the palace Christmas party thrown by Prince Alexander and Princess Katherine, Sever said.

“I said we can help, but here’s the deal,” said Sever, explaining that while the shipping container is loaded with the help of forklifts and other equipment in a warehouse owned by her husband, there was help needed at the other end. If the baseball team and other athletes would help unload the container when it reached Belgrade and transport it to the palace, Lifeline Chicago would carve out a corner to ship the equipment.

Then Sever saw the national team was coming to Northwest Indiana to play a series of exhibition games against the NWI Oilmen.

She made them another deal.

“I told them they could come for a day to the beach, and in return we go to the warehouse to pack boxes,” she said.

The team, their coaches, local organizers and a dozen others got together Monday afternoon at Sever’s lakefront home in Ogden Dunes for a casual lunch. A couple of hours later, the group stayed true to their word and helped pack the boxes they will ultimately unload back in Belgrade later this year.

“We try to help out as much as we can,” said Vlasta Arandjelovic, the team’s third baseman, adding that he has unloaded a container or two from Lifeline Chicago back home.

Team members also volunteer at a weeklong baseball camp back home which brings together children from Serbia and Kosovo to learn and enjoy the game.

Arandjelovic was also impressed with the hospitality the team has received during the trip.

“We are amazed by everything we found here, from the people to the field. From the get-go we are enjoying ourselves,” said Arandjelovic, admiring the view from Sever’s home.

“The view from here is awesome. You can see Chicago. It is out of the world,” he said.

The team’s coach, Nikola Vucevic, said it is the first time for most of the players to step on American soil.

Vucevic said the team came to Northwest Indiana to practice. Serbia will host the European baseball championships B-pool competition later this month.

Vucevic said baseball is an up-and-coming sport in Serbia. There is only one baseball field in the entire country and some 300 players on 10 teams, who most often practice on a soccer field.

The trip for the 16 players has been an amazing experience, from playing under the lights to being able to have a wide variety of baseball-related items to choose from at local stores, Vucevic said.

Ralph Flores, of Munster, helped organize the team’s trip to Northwest Indiana. His uncle, a sports marketer in Colorado, has a connection with the European federation of baseball and sponsored the team’s trip to the United States. With Northwest Indiana’s large population of Serbian-Americans, it was only logical for them to land here, he said.

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Source: The (Northwest Indiana) Times, http://bit.ly/2tbb0go

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Information from: The Times, http://www.nwitimes.com

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