2005-09-15 / Front Page

Islanders organize to aid Katrina victims

By Dotti Farrington

Jamestowners — individually and as members of work, church, and school groups — are making direct and indirect connections across the approximately 1,500 miles to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

One of the most intensive efforts has been launched by a person who spans the bridge communities of Jamestown and Newport: Ed Booth of Newport, recently retired after many years as Jamestown’s postmaster, this month took on a new Santa-like role, becoming a self-defined dispenser of critical aide to survivors of Katrina.

Booth drove south and with many locals funding his handouts, he has been on a mission of legendary proportion. He earned a reputation and lots of love for his role over the years in assuring that letters from Jamestown children to Santa were delivered . . . and sometimes answered in special, secret ways.

His adventures this month have been both heartwarming and heartrending. Some are summarized today in the Press’ Walrus column, and they are detailed further on Booth’s online blog, www.dbooth.net/ed, direct from Katrina’s heartland.

Booth files regular reports there, takes visitor comments, and welcomes pledges to finance his project. He expects to end his tour of duty tomorrow, returning with a deficit in his account.

Individuals & agencies

Several residents are involved individually in aiding Katrina survivors in a number of ways. Some are meeting during drop-off trips to the Salvation Army’s Newport collection center for the hurricane victims who have been brought to Middletown. Others have sent checks or creditcard donations in various amounts, mainly to the American Red Cross or Salvation Army, but no tallies are available readily as workers for those agencies give priority to immediate disaster needs.

Red Cross personnel said the Middletown office was getting just about as much volunteer help as it needs at the moment, “although there is always room for more helpers.” Red Cross workers in Providence said their office still needs more volunteers. One worker reported existing on two hours of sleep a night since Katrina struck.

The Red Cross in Providence and elsewhere continues to recruit volunteers to be trained immediatelyand assigned to areas hit by Katrina. A Salvation Army spokesman said its field needs are pretty much filled by existing trained teams, but it still needs help and is accepting applications for both local (state) and field assignments.

Red Cross policies on volunteers assigned to disaster areas include usual assignments of two weeks at a time to limit burn out, providing transportation to and from the assignment areas, and sharing food and shelter set up for people affected by a disaster. Red Cross policies also provide that all people the Red Cross helps are clients, not refugees, evacuees, victims, or even survivors.

Beware of scams

Only one instance of a possible donation scam has been reported locally. A resident received a telephone solicitation from a Florida mortgage company saying that it was authorized by the Red Cross to make the call. The Red Cross said it does not conduct such solicitations. The call has been reported to Florida police for investigation.

Many resources have been urging Katrina support through the major agencies, such as Red Cross and Salvation Army, and in this state, the Rhode Island Food Bank.

Many other scams have been reported or challenged elsewhere, especially on the Internet, some by organizations that spend a relatively small proportion on intended recipients and keep the rest to pay salaries or overhead.

School work

Fifth-graders at the town’s Lawn Avenue middle school are organizing to raise as much money as they can this week and next to divide between Booth’s crisis account and the American Red Cross. A few lemonade stands have been installed about town as youngsters work to raise funds. Some children plan to donate from their savings; and others will initiate their own fund-raising activities, such as walking dogs and performing other services.

Kindergarteners at Melrose elementary school have signed on to sell student directories to raise funds, and the school’s newsletter, sent home last Friday, detailed the plan. Other classes are planning fund-raisers, and using boxes and jars to fill with their earnings from chores or personal savings. They also are expecting to encourage parents and other adults to send in donations to Booth. “The idea is to help and know that you are helping,” their teachers said.

The school department as a whole is responding to a request being circulated by the Louisiana School Systems for funds to replace the supplies and equipment lost to Katrina. School officials will work with students to initiate projects to raise funds, as they did not so many months ago for people affected by the tsunami in Asia.

School officials here have pledged to provide backup and support to Aquidneck Island communities, which are currently hosting more than 100 guests left homeless by Katrina, expecting an additional 100 persons, and they are ready for up to a total of 500 Katrina survivors.

An influx of military families is also expected.

“We’ve identified room in three classes if needed for incoming students. We have volunteer and support personnel, as well as the school psychologist, to provide counseling and guidance services as may be needed. We definitely will help,” Jamestown School Superintendent Katherine Sipala said Monday.

Town workers

At Town Hall, workers are prepared to help with donations or other needs as they may be identified. Town Clerk Arlene Petit started to organize a drive for the Katrina guests in Middletown but was put on hold as those plans shifted a number of times. Town employees are on standby, to be notified of when and what kind of help is needed. “We will do something,” Petit said.

Churches

At the churches, leaders and various committees have mobilized with some immediate supplies or funds sent to denominational centers for redistribution as needed to Katrina survivors. Additional work is in progress.

At St. Matthews, its ongoing thrift shop has designated a special area for collection of baby and children’s clothing and items for distribution after communities are reestablished in the areas destroyed by Katrina.

At Central Baptist Church, its Wider Mission Committee has gathered “more bedding than I can count, toiletries and such items as 100, 200, or more toothbrushes” as part of an ecumenical effort to respond to disaster needs, according to the Rev. Robert MortonRanney. The church is also conducting sign-ups for members to “adopt, mentor, sponsor or otherwise assist” families relocating in Middletown.

Father Bill O’Neill reported his parishioners at St. Mark Church donated $10,391, the largest total ever, to the special collection Sunday for Katrina aid. The money will be channeled through the diocesan Catholic Charities program. “Everyone is touched by this” disaster, O’Neill noted. He said his church also is prepared to collect clothing once it has been notified that communities are reestablished and have a way to distribute the items.

Churches offered prayers the past two Sundays for Katrina survivors, and sermons included themes related to the disaster.

Father O’Neill said his theme last Sunday combined 9/11 and Katrina. “It was about forgiveness. Are we ready to forgive anyone involved in 9/11, any terrorists? It is a test for all of us. Forgiveness is a center for all us in any disaster, in any situation,” he said.

The Rev. Stephen Bergmann, interim rector of St. Matthew’s, who has lived on the Mississippi River experienced devastation similar to that caused by Katrina, spoke from his pulpit on Sept. 4 about the realities of disaster. “At such times, we see the best and worst of humanity. We see those who take advantage and we see heroic acts. We see the power and grace of God. . . . Some become stronger; others do not have those results. We pray for them all, and we pray for those trying to help.

Rev. Morten-Ranney told his congregation at Central Baptist Church on Sept. 4 that “Hurricane Katrina has managed to do what no social activist ever could — put some of the poorest people of the richest country in the world on international television 24 hours a day.”

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