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Residents motivated to take action

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2005




A week after Hurricane Katrina left thousands homeless in and around New Orleans, Montgomery County residents are working to provide relief funds for survivors and refugees. Many efforts are taking place in eastern Montgomery County.

Organization plans to designate homes for families

As many as 100 area residents have contacted a Washington, D.C.,-based charity about opening their homes to survivors of Hurricane Katrina after a local television station featured one of the organization’s houses in Takoma Park.

Sharon Murphy, deputy director of Mary House, said her group is preparing two homes it owns in Takoma Park to receive families from the hurricane-stricken area along the Gulf of Mexico. Mary House works to find permanent homes for immigrant and refugee families that come to the Washington area, and Murphy said the transition to hurricane relief mode is a natural one.

‘‘We’re talking about people who have been thrown into a nightmare, and who continue to survive in that nightmare, and landing into a safe environment, they’re going to need a lot of support services,” she said.

After an area television station aired a segment on Mary House’s property near Old Town Takoma Park, people began calling to offer living quarters to Katrina survivors, though Murphy said many who contacted her wanted Mary House to assist them. A few people even offered to specifically take families that have pets.

‘‘People said if Mary House will provide them with a safety net of information and advocacy, those people will take [survivors] into their homes,” Murphy said.

It still may be a couple of weeks before the families arrive, but Mary House is trying to anticipate needs. Beds and linens are already taken care of, but the need exists for new computers (or used equipment in good condition), toiletries and personal care products, and paper products.

‘‘We’re second-guessing on behalf of the families about what pending crises we can eliminate before they happen,” Murphy said of the need for computers, which families would use to connect to other family members and government services. ‘‘You know, Louisiana isn’t down the street ... so we need to be sure that people have a connection to what they consider home.”

The families will live rent-free at the Mary House properties, and they’ll have access to education, day care and social services. ‘‘We’ll just look at that family as they are, and first listen to what they would like for us to give them, and then wrap services around them,” Murphy said.

Columbia Union collects donations

Students at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park and the college’s radio station, WGTS-FM, are working with Adventist Community Services to collect donations for people in the Gulf states who survived Hurricane Katrina. Leading the effort on campus are two faculty members with years of experience in relief and development projects: Gaspar Colón, a religion professor who has worked with the Adventist Development Relief Agency, and John Gavin, chairman of the department of social work and former director of Adventist Community Services.

The two men have the tactical and logistical experience to coordinate efforts at Columbia Union with the relief efforts the college’s denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is carrying out across the country, said college spokesman Scott Steward.

The college is asking people to donate toothbrushes and toothpaste, feminine products, soap, combs and brushes, disposable razors, washcloths, and socks and underwear in their original packaging.

‘‘If someone can bring a box of toothpaste from Costco or Sam’s Club, or if they can bring a box of items from the personal care section of Wal-Mart or Target, they feel they can make more of a personal connection with these items,” Steward said.

Items can be dropped off 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week in the lobby of Wilkinson Hall, 7600 Flower Ave., or 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday in the lobby of WGTS-FM, across the street from Wilkinson Hall. The college will accept donations through at least Sept. 16.

The college cashier also will accept donations via cash, check or credit card to Adventist Community Services 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday.

Efforts at the folk festival

With as many as 15,000 people from around the region converging on Takoma Park Sunday for the city’s annual folk festival, a local family that was in New Orleans and Mississippi when Hurricane Dennis hit the Florida Panhandle earlier this year will be collecting money for hurricane relief.

Conny Mayer, mother of the four children who will give away lemonade and sell bracelets at the festival to benefit the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity, said traveling along Interstate 10 earlier this year made her children realize the destructive powers of a hurricane. The family weathered Hurricane Dennis at a family member’s house in Greenville, Miss., but while driving home, they saw the damage inflicted by both hurricanes Dennis and Ivan, which hit Florida last fall.

‘‘It gave the kids an understanding of how long it could take to rebuild after something like this,” Mayer said.

After Hurricane Katrina hit the same area and the destruction in New Orleans became apparent, the family started putting together a plan to help. ‘‘Kids are great,” Mayer said. ‘‘They go, ‘What can we do? Can we send them clothes? Can we give them our water?’ ” And with the region ravaged by Katrina known as the birthplace of jazz and blues, the connection between relief efforts and a music festival became apparent.

Mayer’s children, Saleiha, 12, Conlan, 10, Calley, 9, and Brendan, 7, already have a donation to get their relief effort started: The Takoma Park Folk Festival planning committee donated $50 and will provide them with a table, chairs and ice to get the lemonade fund-raiser started.

The Takoma Park Folk Festival will take place 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Takoma Park Middle School, 7611 Piney Branch Road.

Other musical fund-raisers

For band members at James Hubert Blake High School, the impact of the hurricane’s damage went beyond the images on a television screen. Brian Damron, director of musical studies, said students were emotionally engaged because just eight months earlier, a Blake band had performed at the Nokia Sugar Bowl halftime show and toured the streets of New Orleans.

‘‘It was extremely disheartening to see locations where we were, and where we had been, buried under water,” he said. ‘‘Even the hotel we’d stayed at was partially under water, and it had no windows.”

Band flautist Yasmin Schenkman recalled the celebrations she attended during the New Year tour through New Orleans, compared to the desperation there now.

‘‘You think about all the places we went to last year, all the people we met — we don’t know how they are,” she said. ‘‘The river cruise [at the end of the tour] was so much fun, with its dancing and food ... and now you think that it’s completely gone.”

To raise funds for the relief work in the stricken area, Blake’s bands will hold an open-air sunset concert 5 p.m. Sunday at the school, 300 Norwood Road, Silver Spring.

Organizers of this year’s Silver Spring Jazz Festival, to be held Saturday, also are raising money to donate to hurricane relief efforts, said Susan Hoffmann, marketing and special events manager for the Silver Spring Regional Center.

Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the festival’s headliner, is a New Orleans native.

‘‘If he would talk about his feelings and situation, it would be helpful for people to understand how important it is to donate,” Hoffmann said.

Efforts at area schools

At Paint Branch High School, the student government plans to hold classroom charity collections for the American Red Cross, and the PTSA will direct its efforts to help refugee families.

‘‘For most of us, our kids are back at school, with backpacks and pencils and shoes, while the other kids in Louisiana and Mississippi are hurting,” said Barbara Turner, PTSA president at Paint Branch. Turner said Olasunkanmi Omotade, a 2005 graduate, had gone to New Orleans for college, but managed to catch the last bus out before the hurricane struck. Family members said she is in Georgia.

According to Principal Jeanette Dixon, four students from the affected area have already arrived in Montgomery County with their families to stay with relatives.

Within a few hours of Northwood High School Principal Henry Johnson’s loudspeaker announcement Thursday that the school was going to contribute to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, nearly $400 was donated to the American Red Cross.

Johnson’s goal was for the Silver Spring school to raise $2,000, he said.

Students also were collecting nonperishable food to donate to Catholic Charities, and hoped to have enough goods to send this week, Johnson said.

‘‘Many of them have relatives there,” he said of his students, recalling one girl who tried to call family members on her cellular phone during lunch Aug. 31. She was unable to reach them.

At Albert Einstein High School, senior Theresa Desautels decided to piggyback on a campaign called Project Backpack, an effort started by three sisters in Bethesda. Einstein is among five other area schools and shops that are collecting backpacks filled with school supplies and other gifts for displaced children of Hurricane Katrina. The idea is modeled after a similar relief effort started to aid victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka.

Visit www.projectbackpack.org to learn more about how to donate or e-mail steve.kantor@gmail.com.

‘Like community therapy’

Silver Spring Moose Lodge 658, at 926 Wayne Ave., kicked off a campaign Friday to collect supplies to take down to the Moose Lodge in Baton Rouge, said Thomas Kenny, the lodge’s governor.

A number of people from outside the lodge came by over the weekend to donate items, and though the lodge was still collecting goods this week, members have enough to fill a truck already, Kenny said.

‘‘There was a much larger response than expected,” Kenny said. ‘‘...It was almost like community therapy.”

Silver Spring resident Josephine Geiske has future in-laws who live in the rural communities near Lake Pontchartrain and whose homes are without electricity or phone lines.

‘‘My son’s fiancee’s family is from along the Pearl River,” Geiske said last week. ‘‘They weren’t able to get in touch with her parents until [the morning of Aug. 31], when two of her brothers made their way there from 40 miles away.” Geiske’s son, Edmund, and future daughter-in-law, Jeanette Miller, planned to drive to the neighborhood to bring supplies and check up on the family. However, the wedding arrangements may have to change, Geiske said.

‘‘They were planning to get married Nov. 19 at St. John the Baptist’s Church near the [Superdome],” she said. ‘‘We don’t know if the church is still standing or whether they can use the church for the wedding.”

Local churches are gathering donations for the American Red Cross and other nationwide organizations, as parish leaders look for host families. According to Pastor Anne Dwiggins at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, the response from her parish for this disaster is a heartening sign of community support.

‘‘After the tsunami, there was an enormous response — people are pretty generous,” she said. ‘‘This time, our synod has a database of parish members of any of our congregations who could host a family for any period of time.”

For some residents with friends and family stranded in New Orleans, however, helping out in person is the best policy. Mary Hunt, co-director at Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual in Silver Spring, held a collection to send Hyattsville resident Debbie LaFontaine on her way to help family members stranded.

‘‘She left with a van stocked with water and food and generators, to go down directly to her family,” Hunt said. Although the government had responded in the city, Hunt said even the efforts of individuals can help family members in need, especially for less-populated areas.

‘‘On the television, you see mostly what’s happening in the big-city area, but the rural areas are terribly hard-hit too,” she said.

A week after Hurricane Katrina left thousands homeless in and around New Orleans, Montgomery County residents are working to provide relief funds for survivors and refugees. Many efforts are taking place in eastern Montgomery County.

Organization plans to designate homes for families

As many as 100 area residents have contacted a Washington, D.C.,-based charity about opening their homes to survivors of Hurricane Katrina after a local television station featured one of the organization’s houses in Takoma Park.

Sharon Murphy, deputy director of Mary House, said her group is preparing two homes it owns in Takoma Park to receive families from the hurricane-stricken area along the Gulf of Mexico. Mary House works to find permanent homes for immigrant and refugee families that come to the Washington area, and Murphy said the transition to hurricane relief mode is a natural one.

‘‘We’re talking about people who have been thrown into a nightmare, and who continue to survive in that nightmare, and landing into a safe environment, they’re going to need a lot of support services,” she said.

After an area television station aired a segment on Mary House’s property near Old Town Takoma Park, people began calling to offer living quarters to Katrina survivors, though Murphy said many who contacted her wanted Mary House to assist them. A few people even offered to specifically take families that have pets.

‘‘People said if Mary House will provide them with a safety net of information and advocacy, those people will take [survivors] into their homes,” Murphy said.

It still may be a couple of weeks before the families arrive, but Mary House is trying to anticipate needs. Beds and linens are already taken care of, but the need exists for new computers (or used equipment in good condition), toiletries and personal care products, and paper products.

‘‘We’re second-guessing on behalf of the families about what pending crises we can eliminate before they happen,” Murphy said of the need for computers, which families would use to connect to other family members and government services. ‘‘You know, Louisiana isn’t down the street ... so we need to be sure that people have a connection to what they consider home.”

The families will live rent-free at the Mary House properties, and they’ll have access to education, day care and social services. ‘‘We’ll just look at that family as they are, and first listen to what they would like for us to give them, and then wrap services around them,” Murphy said.

Columbia Union collects donations

Students at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park and the college’s radio station, WGTS-FM, are working with Adventist Community Services to collect donations for people in the Gulf states who survived Hurricane Katrina. Leading the effort on campus are two faculty members with years of experience in relief and development projects: Gaspar Colón, a religion professor who has worked with the Adventist Development Relief Agency, and John Gavin, chairman of the department of social work and former director of Adventist Community Services.

The two men have the tactical and logistical experience to coordinate efforts at Columbia Union with the relief efforts the college’s denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is carrying out across the country, said college spokesman Scott Steward.

The college is asking people to donate toothbrushes and toothpaste, feminine products, soap, combs and brushes, disposable razors, washcloths, and socks and underwear in their original packaging.

‘‘If someone can bring a box of toothpaste from Costco or Sam’s Club, or if they can bring a box of items from the personal care section of Wal-Mart or Target, they feel they can make more of a personal connection with these items,” Steward said.

Items can be dropped off 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week in the lobby of Wilkinson Hall, 7600 Flower Ave., or 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday in the lobby of WGTS-FM, across the street from Wilkinson Hall. The college will accept donations through at least Sept. 16.

The college cashier also will accept donations via cash, check or credit card to Adventist Community Services 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday.

Efforts at the folk festival

With as many as 15,000 people from around the region converging on Takoma Park Sunday for the city’s annual folk festival, a local family that was in New Orleans and Mississippi when Hurricane Dennis hit the Florida Panhandle earlier this year will be collecting money for hurricane relief.

Conny Mayer, mother of the four children who will give away lemonade and sell bracelets at the festival to benefit the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity, said traveling along Interstate 10 earlier this year made her children realize the destructive powers of a hurricane. The family weathered Hurricane Dennis at a family member’s house in Greenville, Miss., but while driving home, they saw the damage inflicted by both hurricanes Dennis and Ivan, which hit Florida last fall.

‘‘It gave the kids an understanding of how long it could take to rebuild after something like this,” Mayer said.

After Hurricane Katrina hit the same area and the destruction in New Orleans became apparent, the family started putting together a plan to help. ‘‘Kids are great,” Mayer said. ‘‘They go, ‘What can we do? Can we send them clothes? Can we give them our water?’ ” And with the region ravaged by Katrina known as the birthplace of jazz and blues, the connection between relief efforts and a music festival became apparent.

Mayer’s children, Saleiha, 12, Conlan, 10, Calley, 9, and Brendan, 7, already have a donation to get their relief effort started: The Takoma Park Folk Festival planning committee donated $50 and will provide them with a table, chairs and ice to get the lemonade fund-raiser started.

The Takoma Park Folk Festival will take place 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Takoma Park Middle School, 7611 Piney Branch Road.

Other musical fund-raisers

For band members at James Hubert Blake High School, the impact of the hurricane’s damage went beyond the images on a television screen. Brian Damron, director of musical studies, said students were emotionally engaged because just eight months earlier, a Blake band had performed at the Nokia Sugar Bowl halftime show and toured the streets of New Orleans.

‘‘It was extremely disheartening to see locations where we were, and where we had been, buried under water,” he said. ‘‘Even the hotel we’d stayed at was partially under water, and it had no windows.”

Band flautist Yasmin Schenkman recalled the celebrations she attended during the New Year tour through New Orleans, compared to the desperation there now.

‘‘You think about all the places we went to last year, all the people we met — we don’t know how they are,” she said. ‘‘The river cruise [at the end of the tour] was so much fun, with its dancing and food ... and now you think that it’s completely gone.”

To raise funds for the relief work in the stricken area, Blake’s bands will hold an open-air sunset concert 5 p.m. Sunday at the school, 300 Norwood Road, Silver Spring.

Organizers of this year’s Silver Spring Jazz Festival, to be held Saturday, also are raising money to donate to hurricane relief efforts, said Susan Hoffmann, marketing and special events manager for the Silver Spring Regional Center.

Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the festival’s headliner, is a New Orleans native.

‘‘If he would talk about his feelings and situation, it would be helpful for people to understand how important it is to donate,” Hoffmann said.

Efforts at area schools

At Paint Branch High School, the student government plans to hold classroom charity collections for the American Red Cross, and the PTSA will direct its efforts to help refugee families.

‘‘For most of us, our kids are back at school, with backpacks and pencils and shoes, while the other kids in Louisiana and Mississippi are hurting,” said Barbara Turner, PTSA president at Paint Branch. Turner said Olasunkanmi Omotade, a 2005 graduate, had gone to New Orleans for college, but managed to catch the last bus out before the hurricane struck. Family members said she is in Georgia.

According to Principal Jeanette Dixon, four students from the affected area have already arrived in Montgomery County with their families to stay with relatives.

Within a few hours of Northwood High School Principal Henry Johnson’s loudspeaker announcement Thursday that the school was going to contribute to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, nearly $400 was donated to the American Red Cross.

Johnson’s goal was for the Silver Spring school to raise $2,000, he said.

Students also were collecting nonperishable food to donate to Catholic Charities, and hoped to have enough goods to send this week, Johnson said.

‘‘Many of them have relatives there,” he said of his students, recalling one girl who tried to call family members on her cellular phone during lunch Aug. 31. She was unable to reach them.

At Albert Einstein High School, senior Theresa Desautels decided to piggyback on a campaign called Project Backpack, an effort started by three sisters in Bethesda. Einstein is among five other area schools and shops that are collecting backpacks filled with school supplies and other gifts for displaced children of Hurricane Katrina. The idea is modeled after a similar relief effort started to aid victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka.

Visit www.projectbackpack.org to learn more about how to donate or e-mail steve.kantor@gmail.com.

‘Like community therapy’

Silver Spring Moose Lodge 658, at 926 Wayne Ave., kicked off a campaign Friday to collect supplies to take down to the Moose Lodge in Baton Rouge, said Thomas Kenny, the lodge’s governor.

A number of people from outside the lodge came by over the weekend to donate items, and though the lodge was still collecting goods this week, members have enough to fill a truck already, Kenny said.

‘‘There was a much larger response than expected,” Kenny said. ‘‘...It was almost like community therapy.”

Silver Spring resident Josephine Geiske has future in-laws who live in the rural communities near Lake Pontchartrain and whose homes are without electricity or phone lines.

‘‘My son’s fiancee’s family is from along the Pearl River,” Geiske said last week. ‘‘They weren’t able to get in touch with her parents until [the morning of Aug. 31], when two of her brothers made their way there from 40 miles away.” Geiske’s son, Edmund, and future daughter-in-law, Jeanette Miller, planned to drive to the neighborhood to bring supplies and check up on the family. However, the wedding arrangements may have to change, Geiske said.

‘‘They were planning to get married Nov. 19 at St. John the Baptist’s Church near the [Superdome],” she said. ‘‘We don’t know if the church is still standing or whether they can use the church for the wedding.”

Local churches are gathering donations for the American Red Cross and other nationwide organizations, as parish leaders look for host families. According to Pastor Anne Dwiggins at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, the response from her parish for this disaster is a heartening sign of community support.

‘‘After the tsunami, there was an enormous response — people are pretty generous,” she said. ‘‘This time, our synod has a database of parish members of any of our congregations who could host a family for any period of time.”

For some residents with friends and family stranded in New Orleans, however, helping out in person is the best policy. Mary Hunt, co-director at Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual in Silver Spring, held a collection to send Hyattsville resident Debbie LaFontaine on her way to help family members stranded.

‘‘She left with a van stocked with water and food and generators, to go down directly to her family,” Hunt said. Although the government had responded in the city, Hunt said even the efforts of individuals can help family members in need, especially for less-populated areas.

‘‘On the television, you see mostly what’s happening in the big-city area, but the rural areas are terribly hard-hit too,” she said.

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