The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
September/October 2005
FEATURE
 
 

VVA In Action
In Service to Victims of Hurricane Katrina
 

BY JIM BELSHAW

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Louisiana State Council Vice President Dennis Andras spoke to the employees of his battered electrical business. He needed to explain something.

“The life we had does not exist anymore,” he told them.

On August 31, VVA President John Rowan called on the membership across the nation to come to the aid of the millions of Americans whose lives—much like those of Dennis Andras and his employees—had been drastically changed by the devastating storm. Basic supplies—bottled water, food, clothes, and other necessities—have been collected and delivered by VVA and AVVA members in the Gulf Coast states. The effort will continue for the foreseeable future.

Tom Hall, who was named VVA Hurricane Katrina Relief Coordinator by Rowan, said, “If each VVA member donated only $20, we could do a lot.”

Checks should be made out to “VVA Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund.” Send your check to Vietnam Veterans of America, ATTN: VVA Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, 8605 Cameron St., Suite 400, Silver Spring, MD 20910. To make a donation on line or to obtain new information, go to www.vva.org/DisasterRelief/index.htm or www.vva.org and click on the “Hurricane Relief” icon.

“This unfortunate tragedy has affected the lives of so many,” Rowan said in his August statement. “As in the past, I know that our VVA and AVVA members will step up during this time of need.”


Hall and the Florida State Council were chosen to coordinate the hurricane relief effort based on their involvement in relief work done last year when four hurricanes swept across Florida. To contact Hall, call 813-294-4364 or e-mail HurricaneReliefFund@vva.org Working with State Council Presidents, AVVA, and other members, Hall established collection and distribution centers in Beaumont, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; Tupelo, Miss.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; Tampa, Fla.; and cities in North Carolina.

Hall said the VVA relief effort will follow the template that grew out of last year’s work during the Florida hurricane season. “We’re taking the supplies to the people who need them,” he said. “Last year, the first place we took supplies was Fort Myers. The county wanted us to drop everything off at a warehouse where the supplies would be stored. We said no and went about five or six miles down the road and found two trailer parks that had almost no assistance nine days after the hurricane.”

Hall said that that experience convinced him that the more direct route to those in need was the best to follow.

“We needed to do it ourselves,” he said. “After that first one, that’s the way we worked every place we went. We were a self-sufficient operation. It was successful. We never returned with supplies. Everything we took, we dispersed.”


VVA’s Katrina effort even began before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast. Modeling the collection and distribution points system on the one used last year, Hall said the ongoing effort so far has met with success. With chapters across the country conducting their own fund-raising programs, Hall said that as the donations come into the pipeline, he will continue to amass supplies and distribute them as needed.

In Texas, State Council President Bill Meeks reported that the five Gulf Coast chapters within 90 miles of one another have been communicating as best they can. Meeks said that with Houston being a major distribution location as well as a center for New Orleans evacuees, the response had been overwhelming for the people in need of help.

“There are about 1,800 VVA members in the three affected states and about 300 AVVA members,” Meeks said. “Within the Gulf Coast and the bordering states, we have about 7,500 VVA members and more than 1,000 AVVA members. So that’s our work force.”

AVVA President Mary Miller said AVVA members have been at work in relief efforts from the first day, collecting funds, donating funds, buying food, cooking it, and going out to feed those in need. “It’s been wonderful the way people have responded,” she said. “AVVA automatically kicked in when the need arose, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. This is going to go on for a long time.”

Texas VVA and AVVA members, including Bill and Suzie Meeks, Jim and Marilyn Rose, and Sandra Womack, were scheduled to deliver a load of supplies to Jennings, La., earmarked for the beleaguered employees of Dennis Andras. A second delivery was scheduled to go to Lake Charles, La., where member Wes Guidry has been working with his church to bring aid to two areas.

“Dennis has been hard hit,” Meeks said. “We’re taking clothing, canned goods, and many other things.”


While VVA members have reached out to fellow members and other veterans, Meeks stressed that the relief effort stretches well beyond the boundaries of the veteran community.

“If we can identify veterans or VVA members, yes, they’re going to get the aid, but a lot of the other aid is also going to the general community,” he said, invoking the VVA motto. “You can’t put it any better: ‘In Service To America.’ That’s what we’re all about. Veterans, yes. We’re going to take care of the veterans. But we’re going to take care of the larger community, too. That’s the philosophy we live by. We’re not going to forget anybody.”

In Mississippi, Bill West of Chapter 842 in Tupelo reported a good turnout and donation response. Delivering bottled water, canned goods, sanitary items, baby food, and formula to a center set up about ten miles west of Gulfport, West said he had never seen such destruction. Likening the landscape to a “war scene” as he drove toward Gulfport, West said it looked like a bomb had gone off—a bomb larger than the imagination could create.

“It was total destruction,” he said. “I didn’t see a light pole standing. There wasn’t a tree standing. The people were tired. They were just worn out. The church we went to had only six members left. All the rest had gone. They were just exhausted. We’re going to do this for as long as it takes, and it’s going to take months. We’re just going to do what we can. As often as we can get a load, we’ll get it down there.”

In Louisiana, Region 7 Director Allen Manuel has been traveling to shelters and parks, where tent cities have blossomed. “Towels, sheets, pillows, Kool-Aid, fruit—whatever they need,” he said. “I bought gas for people who had cars. I bought fans. You name it and we bought it and gave it to them. I’m doing the best with what I have, and it’s doing real well right now. There’s a lot of people that need to be helped and a lot of them who say they don’t need help because they don’t want to impose on others. It’s a tough job.”

In Florida, relief coordinator Tom Hall has urged all members to be aware of the hazards of attempting hurricane relief work on their own. Citing serious health issues in the affected areas, he said that any member venturing into these areas must have a current tetanus shot.


Hall is pleased with the VVA effort to date, and like Bill Meeks in Texas, points to the VVA motto to underscore the philosophy behind the effort.

“It’s going real well,” he said. “The biggest thing I could say to our members is that this is a total team effort. We’ve all got to work together on this. This is something that’s happened to our country and we have a responsibility to help our fellow man. We look at our VVA motto and see ‘In Service To America.’ Well, by God, we’re still in service to America.”

   

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