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A Bounty of Donations

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

September 6 -- Over the Labor Day weekend, a loose-knit network of Santa Monica parents, armed only with emails and goodwill, filled six eighteen-wheel trucks with humanitarian aid destined for survivors of Hurricane Katrina in Slidell, Louisiana.

“This was just one parent emailing another parent,” said Tom Browne who, with Debra Young Krizman, organized the spontaneous grass-roots drive. “We’re not government.”

Photos by David Hume Kennerly unless otherwise indicated

They’d marshaled the efforts of fellow parents, TV stars, homeless men living in their cars -- no offer of help was turned down. Donors from the entire southland turned up outside Franklin Elementary School to help the victims of the worst national disaster in living memory.

“Either you’re from New Orleans or you had a good time in New Orleans,” Browne said, explaining the generosity of so many donors, some of whom drove in from as far as San Diego.

“We’re feeling wonderful. We’re beyond good,” Krizman said Monday afternoon, when the last of the trucks had been donated and volunteers were cleaning up the staging area on Idaho Avenue outside the Franklin school playground.

Tom Browne and Debra Krizman

Krizman and Browne are both New Orleans area natives who had to cut short family vacations in Louisiana a week ago Sunday when their home towns were evacuated.

After the two Franklin Elementary School parents got back to Santa Monica, they decided they had to do something to help.

“We didn’t feel like we’d done enough,” Krizman said. Browne was filling up a truck with a generator and supplies for his family in Slidell, Louisiana. He told Krizman “If you can get the stuff, I’ll get it there,” she said.

At 2a.m. Friday morning, Krizman sent an email to a circle of her local friends asking for donations to fill Browne’s truck.

“People were lining up Friday morning,” Krizman said. “They dropped off a box and stayed and worked the whole day. They cancelled vacations, bar-be-cues.”

“It just exploded on us,” Browne said. “We were just going to set up a couple of lawn chairs in Debra’s front yard.”

Monday morning, a Disney producer was offering Browne the services of his production crew while a young woman whose friend works for American Airlines was passing along the company’s offer to fly some of the donations back east.

Meanwhile a couple was waiting in line to hand Browne a check for $2,000. Cars were pulling up and being directed to other charities.
Karen Embry of Seal Beach stood on the corner. “My whole street donated. I’ve got two vanfuls of stuff. I guess I’ll go to Long Beach Airport,” she said.

Volunteer workers were waiting next to stacks of boxes they said would fill two or three more trucks. “We bought out all the Westside boxes,” Pollyanna Jacobs said.

Adrienne H. Mohamed had come to donate her daughter’s clothes and stayed to work. As the gray haired woman in overalls pulled on a pair of heavy duty work gloves she explained that she was a patient at the VA hospital with a heart problem. Obviously that didn’t stop her from pitching in.

Adrienne H. Mohamed (Photo by Ann K. Williams)

“Dierdre Hall was here all day,” she said. “She worked like a dog.”

Mohamed pointed out the boxes of food, medicine, baby formula and pet supplies that were going back east.

The night before, she said, two homeless men who lived in their cars had guarded the boxes.

One of the men, Bernard Cadden, was a Vietnam Vet, a Corpsman, Mohamed said.

Cadden was already busy working, but stopped to say “If we can’t do things, the rougher the world is. If we all did all the things we can do, the world would be a better place.”

Meanwhile, Browne was supervising.

”My goal is to load them (the trucks) once, pull it off the street, load them and go,” Browne said. “The Slidell Police Department will meet us at the border and escort us all the way.”

When asked what people can do to help now that the trucks are being filled, Brown said, “Call the local government and complain about why it’s taking so long. That’s what my cousins say in New Orleans. It’s not like you see on TV.”

Krizman advised people who still have donations to give them to The Dream Center, formerly Queen of Angels Hospital, which expects to house 300 evacuees by Wednesday.

“They need everything,” Krizman said.

Visit www.dreamcenter.org or call (213) 273-7000.
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