Storm relief effort started with e-mail list

FEDERAL WORKERS

September 22, 2006|By Melissa Harris

Editor's note: Marking the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Workers column offers the last of three accounts from Maryland-based employees who volunteered to respond to the Gulf Coast.

Angel Hebert and her husband, Dr. Chad Nelson of Ellicott City have worked for the federal government since graduate school - Hebert eventually landed at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Nelson at the Food and Drug Administration.

Acquaintances since age 12, both came from New Orleans to Maryland for graduate school. Here, Hebert tells the couple's story.

Our parents live in Louisiana. We were on the phone with our parents, and my mom was worried. Both of us went to college in New Orleans, and we couldn't do anything about it but watch TV.

One of my closest friends, who works at CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services], her family lost everything. She was born and raised in New Orleans. She found her mother, who relocated to Baton Rouge, but she couldn't find her grandfather. They just found him recently, and I think it was in a morgue. They ID'd his body through his DNA. It was horrific.

I would call my mom in Lafayette, and she kept on crying and crying and crying on the phone. It was too hard to hear her and too emotionally draining, especially at work. So I said, `I can't take listening to you anymore. Why don't you stop watching TV and do something? Go volunteer.'

She went to work for the Red Cross and said, `Now that I've volunteered, what are you going to do?'

So I worked up an e-mail to 50 of our closest friends at CMS about getting together donations, and the e-mail just started flying. My husband e-mailed people at FDA, and we also hit the Social Security Administration and the National Mediation Board.

People were walking up to me in the halls, saying, `How can I help? What can I do?' People would say, `I don't have money, but I can give you clothes or toilet paper or napkins.' Everything just started spinning.

We made my mom our contact. We would get the 18-wheeler down there and she would distribute it. Lafayette wasn't as hard hit, but everyone fled there, so the Wal-Marts, the CVS's, the K-Marts could not stock up on toilet tissue, paper towels, soap. My mom sent us a list of products they needed.

The mayor [Martin O'Malley] donated the truck, and the CMS family the supplies. My kung fu school, the Jow Ga Kung Fu Association, and my health club donated the facilities to store the supplies and pack everything. Imagine working out and just being surrounded by boxes.

And then with that ton of stuff, we went to Louisiana. My colleague's mother, the one whose family lost everything, was our first recipient. And when Rita hit, we did the same thing.

Chad's family is in New Iberia [La.], and that was harder hit during Rita. There was a terrible storm surge, and those people lost everything. The whole town was just wiped out.

One of the contractors at CMS donated the second truck. While we were down there, given our experience with the health care system, we would try to help people find housing, get in touch with health care providers and help people who had lost their health insurance cards.

We were on the phone night and day and also trying to locate our family members and help clean up some houses. My great aunt lost her home in Lake Charles because of Rita.

They wouldn't even let us into the area where her home was. One of my cousins lives on the outskirts of town, and it was pure devastation. We got out of our car and all you saw was mud. All you could feel was sadness.

The writer welcomes your comments and feedback. She can be reached at melissa.harris@ baltsun.com, or 410-715-2885.

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