Aided in past, now leading a relief effort

Inspired by the community's kindness to her last year, a resident started a drive for Katrina victims.

September 18, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Inspired by the enthusiasm of a woman who has reaped the benefits of her community's kindness, Carroll County residents and businesses have donated tons of items to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

Seven tractor-trailers are bound for Louisiana and Texas with clothing, linens, medication, food, furniture and bedding. One is pulling a fully equipped camper that can sleep eight - also a donation.

Rosalind Blakey, who resides in Westminster with her two children in Carroll's first Habitat for Humanity home built last year, started the drive for relief supplies about two weeks ago.

The campaign quickly outgrew a spot on a shopping center parking lot and moved to the Carroll County Agriculture Center, where dozens of volunteers sorted, packed and labeled the donations.

"We all have a likeness of heart," said Blakey, who has temporarily set aside her hair-styling business. "These people in Louisiana and Mississippi have lost a lifetime of things. We have to all be there for them. This is a mission for us."

Erika Chima, Blakey's friend and customer, dropped off a vanload of toys, clothing, shoes and canned foods. "As soon as she saw what the storm had done, Rosalind went into motion," the Finksburg mother of three said. "She has the energy and heart to do this."

Many volunteers, such as Judy Furbay of Finksburg, arrived with donations and stayed to sort and pack.

"You just can't catch up," she said. "The stuff just keeps coming."

Volunteer Phyllis Hammond described the Ag Center as resembling a "shipping terminal."

Donations moved efficiently from cars to labeled cartons to forklifts and finally to tractor-trailers. David Thompson, who is usually building houses, shut down his job site Thursday to load the trucks with hefty cartons of donations.

"This work needs to be done," Thompson said. "This kind of effort is indicative of America. We give until it hurts and then we give more."

A steady stream of cars filled with donations, much of which was new, arrived at the center during the past two weeks. Residents gave necessities, but didn't forget the fanciful. Two new rocking horses as well as other toys, books and games were among the items.

Westminster Mayor Thomas Ferguson was among the packers.

"A small group who decided they wanted to do something has put together seven tractor-trailer loads," Ferguson said. "They just struck a chord and got an unbelievable outpouring."

They even found drivers. Jim Ward, a Westminster trucker, volunteered his rig, gasoline and time to drive the donations south. He cooked meals for other volunteers last week and also persuaded several other drivers to join the convoy to the Gulf Coast.

"It's not hard, when you transport stuff for a living," said Ward. "A lot of people are pulling off a lot of things to help. I didn't have trouble getting equipment or guys."

Jen Hogue of Westminster made three trips to the Ag Center last week, each time with a vanful of donations.

"This storm made everybody notice what others don't have now," she said. "I know we have too much. If every community did this kind of grassroots effort, the results would be awesome."

A Virginia minister, who came to the county to give a workshop two weeks ago, has yet to go home. She is too busy coordinating, sorting and packing.

Touching hearts

"The heart of people has been touched and they are giving beyond measure," said the Rev. Beatrice Ofosuah, who is helping Blakey. "We have brand new stuff, direct from stores. We have trucks to take everything and we have enough to store for another trip."

Ofosuah, who was a minister in Louisiana for nine years, has a second trip planned. She has promised help to a congregation in Jackson, Miss.

The convoy expected to depart the Ag Center yesterday for Baton Rouge, where Pastor Noble Enime of Jesus is Light World Ministries awaits them.

"We need anything they can bring," Enime said. "We have people living in our churches and with our church families. We have some ready to move into apartments, but they have nothing. These donations mean a lot to all of us."

Because of the housing shortage, the Carroll group does not expect much in the way of accommodations, said Blakey, who is making the trip with her children.

"If they are camping on the ground and sleeping in tents, that is what we will do," she said.

Some trucks will drive on to Houston to Black Madonna Church, which is sheltering about 100 evacuated families. Ofosuah hopes to bring a family or two of evacuees back to Carroll County with her. She has several offers of local housing, she said.

Blakey's makeshift office at the Ag Center is a tent with her cell phone, a book of receipts and a calculator. In addition to the truckloads, her campaign has raised about $35,000.

Looking for a bus

Late Friday, she was searching for a bus that could transport about two dozen volunteers willing to make the trip. Barring that, she had the promise of two vans from a local church.

Blakey said she knows something about deprivation and much about gratitude.

Habitat, a national charity working to end homelessness, put Blakey "in a position where I can give back," she said.

"I can understand the plight of these storm victims, but I have never been part of devastation of this magnitude," Blakey said. "I just knew I had to begin to outreach. I knew it would work."

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