Flood aid inundates restaurant NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE

August 13, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Sam and Elsie Watts would be proud.

The couple was always ready with a hot meal and a couple of bucks for destitute strangers passing through North Laurel in the 1950s and 1960s. Sam Watts even kept a pair of pliers handy for free toothache treatment.

For the last two weeks, their grandson, Harvey Hall, has been helping unfortunates, but this charity extends far beyond those who happen into Sam & Elsie's Restaurant, also known as Sam's, on U.S. 1.

In back of the restaurant, beer boxes filled with clothing, bundles of paper towel rolls and stuffed animals dominate a screened-in storage area. In a few weeks, the items, along with the $2,600 in cash he has collected so far, will be trucked to Le May, Mo.

Located about 10 miles south of downtown St. Louis, much of Le May is beneath the waters of the flooding Mississippi River.

In one week, Mr. Hall, 35, organized last Sunday's cookout at Sam & Elsie's to benefit Laurel Helping Le May, a relief effort he started along with other Laurel businesses, including Red, Hot & Blue and O'Toole's restaurants.

The Le May program grew out of frustration with other relief agencies' unwillingness to accept any contributions except cash, Mr. Hall said.

By tomorrow, Mr. Hall hopes to have recruited 10 to 15 volunteers to wash cars in the parking lot of Randy's California Inn, just up the street from Sam & Elsie's at U.S. 1 and Whiskey Bottom Road.

The 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. car wash, which will be repeated Sunday, is billed as free, but the idea is to collect whatever donations motorists can afford.

The sister cities effort "kind of gives them hope that people aren't forgetting them," said Deborah Kersting, the St. Louis County Council member who represents the Le May area.

"I think for a lot of these people the gift of hope is probably the greatest gift that we can give them," she said.

Of course, there are quite a few other items that will come in handy for residents, many of whom have chosen to live in their cars rather than leave their belongings and pets unprotected while they stay in shelters.

Local relief volunteers in Le May have told Laurel organizers that they need clothing, including baby clothes, canned food, scrub brushes, sheets, squeegees, hoses, nozzles and rags to cope with the flooding and eventual cleanup.

A variety of Laurel businesses have donated items to help with the relief effort, including almost all of the food and supplies for the cookout and car wash, said Faye Furr, daughter of Sam and Elsie Watts and Mr. Hall's mother.

"We've got so much bread from the local bread companies I don't know what to do with it," she said. Actually, she plans to donate leftover bread from the cookout to the Elizabeth House shelter in Laurel.

In-kind contributions are being stored for free in a bin at ShurGuard in Laurel, and Mr. Hall said he has a local trucking company tentatively lined up to ship them to Le May.

First, he has to convince states along the way to waive their highway taxes.

The cookout and the car wash are only the beginning of Mr. Hall's relief plans.

Next weekend, volunteers for Laurel Helping Le May will collect donations at traffic signals, and on Sept. 25, he plans to auction off donated collectibles and other items.

While on vacation in Tennessee a week from now, Mr. Hall plans to visit the Dollywood amusement park to try to line up country music acts to perform at an as-yet unscheduled benefit at Laurel Race Course.

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