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 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
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
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
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
“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
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.”