BOB BOONE: Katrina Relief Did Us All Proud
This was written to be read at an observance of the BucksMont (Pa.) Katrina Project, which worked closely with Moore Friends for Mississippi in hurricane-relief projects.
It is truly a privilege to have served with a group of people who were able to motivate a whole community to help another community in need.
The Moore Friends for Mississippi was formed just a few days after Hurricane Katrina brought such horrific devastation to the Gulf Coast in late August 2005. Owing to the tenacity of our local newspaper editor, Steve Bouser, he was able to get in touch with Mayor Eddie Farve to try to assess the needs of their community.
Shortly thereafter, a small group of us met to decide what we could do. One of our members, Kelly Miller, was able to arrange for a plane to fly us to Bay St. Louis so we could get a first-hand look at the situation and enable us to form a battle plan.
On our first trip down, we discovered a community in shock, with minimal help on hand and not really much way of prioritizing the offers of help that were beginning to come in. We decided on that first trip to focus on things we could do to help bring some sense of normalcy back to the people of Bay St. Louis.
On that first trip we discovered that the high school had been badly damaged and that all the football uniforms had been destroyed. Another of our members, Grant Roper, took it upon himself to get uniforms donated so that the players and coaches could have a season at all. Friends at New Balance donated football cleats, and we were able to get the equipment and uniforms dropped off just in time for the first game. The year 2005 was one of the best seasons in the history of the local high school.
Other immediate needs we discovered were such mundane things as copy paper and toner for the library, toilet paper, places to store goods coming in, pots and pans, sleeping bags, blankets, tents, kitchenware, gloves, masks, cleaning tools, detergents, bleach and construction tools of every description and art supplies.
In addition, we discovered that the local hospital had been flooded and was closed until it could get its first floor gutted and rebuilt. Each of these projects we adopted and made an impact on it. Whether it was the donated tractor trailer load of toilet paper, the four Army surplus tents used to house donated items awaiting distribution, local pots and pan drives where the people in our community donated new kitchenware and loaded the back of a pickup truck at a local car dealer many times over to help us collect a tractor-trailer load of these goods to send down, or the ambulance donated to the local fire department, all sectors of our community came together to try to meet the immediate and longer term needs of the Bay.
We also discovered that almost all the public recreation areas were damaged beyond repair. We adopted the Seventh Street Park as a project to give the local children a safe place to play while parents were working on their homes and to give parents a place of respite from time to time.
After a successful period of fundraising we were able to attend the grand opening of the park and with great satisfaction hear how some local families had adopted it and were caring for its plant materials before the town could get the irrigation system hooked up.
A local school group, who named themselves "Kids for Catastrophe," organized in three weeks a Mardi Gras fundraiser with donated foods, entertainment and decorations. A conference center raised more than $30,000 to help with the purchase of school supplies for the students of the town.
Others organized work parties to send labor to the Bay. Still others organized a concert by George Winston, who has ties to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. All in all, our small county of 78,000 people raised over $1 million in goods, services and in-kind donations to help our neighbors to the south.
One person deserves specific mention: Shane McKinnon, a local truck driver who on several occasions donated his time and the use of his truck to carry loads to Bay St. Louis.
The Moore Friends for Mississippi decided early on that we needed to coordinate our efforts with others who were trying to help folks in Hancock County so we would not duplicate efforts. While investigating, we found the BucksMont, Pa., group, the Port Townsend, Wash., group, a group from Tennessee and a group from Maryland who were making efforts to help.
We worked to encourage inter-group communication so we would not only not duplicate efforts, but hopefully could also coordinate efforts in a synergistic way to make all our efforts more productive. Cooperative projects included our participation in the Behavioral Specialists to assist the mental health needs of the population, the animal shelter and the food bank.
We were able to draw on the resources of the BucksMont group, which had "eyes and ears" on the ground that could help us be sure our efforts were being appropriately carried out.
In addition, the hospital and medical community here adopted the Hancock Medical Center and assisted in its recovery by providing equipment, furniture, supplies, doctor's office furnishings, exam tables, scales, equipment and the like.
As one of our final acts, we were able to have our local Arts Council arrange for an art show featuring the work of many Bay St. Louis artists. The show was a success on many levels, but also helped to cement our friendships with the folks in the Bay for many years to come.
We can be justly proud of our efforts, both singly and jointly, but we will forever gain far more than we gave in the making of new friends and helping to change the lives of many we will never know.
Bob Boone was a key member of Moore Friends for Mississippi.
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