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Avalon Cares - (and delivers)

Author:
Posted: September 11th. 2005
Times Viewed: 3,292

If I had died in my sleep last night, I would not have regretted using my last day to drive to Prentiss, Mississippi with the first load of emergency supplies for Avalon Cares.

Saturday dawned early for me. I was up at 04:30 and out the door by 7:00 after doing the shower thing and feeding the pets and checking my inbox one last time. The team was sleeping in a hotel up by the Interstate and I located available gasoline for them to refuel the trucks they'd driven up from Daytona Beach Friday night.

We met up at the hotel, introduced each other, and had breakfast, before gassing up and heading out.

When you find gas, fill up. In doing this, we had no problems or concerns about fuel the nearer we got to Katrina's path. The prices also seemed to get lower the closer we got to it, as well, which struck me as a very fair form of help for them. I hate the prices at home, but in finding this to be the case closest to those needing fuel for generators and to recover, I'm OK with the prices back home, now.

Convoys everywhere. I think all the people moving out there are either residents or incoming convoys from everywhere, heading to a thousand points of destination with thier truckloads of supplies or building materials to repair roofs.

I will say one thing that was evident everywhere in Alabama and Mississippi as we moved through the damage. These folks have serious work ethics, and they wait for no one. There must have been armies of locals out on every major road and even the interstate with chainsaws and anything that would drag trees aside to clear them before the rain had even stopped. The closer we got, the more obvious it was how very much damage had been done by the tornados that struck this area with terrible consequences. Roads were often lined, almost walled in, by chainsawed tree remains the closer we got to Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Our route took us to the edges of Hattiesburg before cutting over to reach Prentiss. We did not see the actual city enough to say anything firsthand about the reports of entire sections being leveled by tornados. But, we did see the evidence of MANY small tornados having gone through here. Entire forests broken like matchsticks, trees twisted and snapped off or left hanging by shreds, and in the midst of such scenes, a tree here or there left standing like it hadn't happened at all.

But, one or two trees does not a forest make. The National Forest in the Mississippi and Louisiana area is decimated in this part we drove through.

Images that leap to mind as I pause to describe this for you include one building people were tarping up as we passed by, the building next door looking ok, but odd... and then we realized the roof of the first building was now laying on top of the roof next door! Houses where half looked fine, the other half splintered and collapsed. Miles of greenhouses with green plants inside and no coverings of the shade screens or greenhouses anymore. Egg farms by the rows and rows with roofs gone now and no chickens anywhere to be seen. Those rumors seemed to be true. Roofs ripped away and chickens sucked out by tornados and simply gone now.

On the main road from another Interstate leading into Hattiesburg, I looked over and saw unbroken miles of utility trucks arriving in convoy, truck after truck after truck! It made me glad, and I was not even one of the locals living in that heat all these many days without power.

On our right, a large fenced area converted to local FEMA use as a depot. Many flatbeds of wooden telephone poles standing and waiting to be used to restore power where there are no poles left. But, it made me think of the destroyed forests locally, and another forest harvested somewhere else to have these to give. We don't appreciate trees as much as we should.

Once we got on the road leading us into Prentiss, we drove through several small villages and through the cleared trees which must have once made it totally impassable, we saw people already hard at work getting thier homes back on track, tarps up, and one State Farm insurance adjuster parked and considering a badly damaged farmhouse. Other than that one State Farm man and our convoy, we saw no one but locals at work to restore anything through those counties we passed through to get to Prentiss.

Prentiss is the county seat of Jefferson Davis County. Jefferson Davis County is the poorest county in Mississippi. Mississippi isn't one of the wealthier states in the Nation to begin with. In fact, I've heard it is the poorest state in the Nation, but I haven't researched that factoid. I saw humble homesteads, but kept with tremendous pride. Many farm fields. Hay seems to be a big crop around here. I saw some beautiful horses grazing in fields, some cows, too. The population is low, here, and that may account for the poverty comparatively speaking. It certainly is not the willingness and efforts of these people.

Prentiss was damaged enough that when I made my last call as we reached Hattiesburg we got directed to a standing building by the lake there the town had had to rent to have a place to receive our supplies at all and keep them dry and safe for future distribution. That hurt me to hear, and it touched me to arrive and see it was a small little sort of recreation building by the lake, and stone empty. Nothing at all stockpiled. What they have gotten was immediately sent to other places, primarily down to New Orleans. They hadn't gotten enough to have to store anything or sort it until we got there.

We got mugged immediately upon arrival. I have not been hugged and touched and patted by so many people in such good will in so short a time as I did during the hour or so we were there, having to unload the flats by hand as it turned out. When they saw what we had, some calls were made and more locals simply came out and helped. The several tons we brought really wasn't that bad to offload with so much help.

40 houses in Prentiss lost their roofs. I heard that as we worked together. Small as the town has to be, we wondered how many had NOT lost their roofs! They were exhausted but cheerful, talked about how fortunate they were, cheered especially to see the new chainsaws and parts for them we delivered, and were almost confused to receive entire flats of dry milk, water, sorted clothing, baby formulas, simple basic medical needs like bandaids and aspirin and tylenol.

They are confused to be given things, is my strongest impression, and in their sudden wealth they were talking about who to give it away to. Before we left, we helped load a truck leaving immediately for New Orleans to try to beat curfews there and get it in.

"We're alive and have each other. We're doing ok enough. We worry about everyone else."

With thier town so damaged they could not store our delivery. With 40 homes in town roofless and praying for no rain. They are still grouping up like worker bees to cut through some roads to check on neighbors living away.

"Surely, there are people who need help more than we do."

"Don't worry about us. We'll find folks who need this more and get it through to them."

"CNN talks alot about other places, so they have to need help, you know. I heard on a TV that in Gulfport, the newsman said he saw not even one truck coming to bring water one day."

"No one has come here, so it must be worse in other places."

"Oh, can't you stay a bit longer? Can you stay for dinner at least? You're too kind to even give us a thought let alone go to all this trouble!"

"You tell those people thank you for remembering us. I hope it never happens, but if you need us, we'll be coming to help you soon as your storms clear."

I believe them. I'm also certain we delivered to the very best place on Earth for our first relief effort. I woke up in my air conditioned, roofed house this morning feeling homesick for Prentiss, Mississippi and her truly beautiful locals.

I'm crying as I finish this report after letting my mind replay the trip yesterday. All the hell everywhere, and I ran smack into a suburb of "Heaven", for sure.

I regret we didn't have time to stay for dinner.

Mambo Joie Balindjo
Chancellor General
Officers of Avalon, Inc.
Commander, Avalon Cares





UPDATED Email 9/13/2005

I do not understand how I could possibly receive a phone call like I did at work last night. Between processing drunk drivers being arrested at the Sheriff's Department, my cell phone rang, and one of the County Managers I have been working closely with in Mississippi was on the phone.

"Your donors will be happy to know that we had a huge group of people come and load up the rest of the supplies your group delivered to help us. You can tell them their charity efforts for us are now spread from the Capitol (of Mississippi) all the way to Gulfport, besides New Orleans. That should make them happy. We made sure it only went to people who really had nothing else and truly needed it."

I told her that was great news, and it certainly would, but I didn't like her tone. We've gotten close the past couple weeks. We started as strangers, but we're friends now, confidantes during a very hard time.

"We gave it all away. Everyone was really thankful. I wish you could have been here to see it. It was just wonderful! Especially the baby formulas and diapers and things. They were SO happy to get that!"

Great, great, cut to the chase, my friend, I was thinking worriedly.

"But, then, I found out that the Red Cross is leaving us today. Just like that. They'd come and brought us water and ice is all, but we really needed that. We still don't have FEMA here to even help us tarp up the damaged houses and lost roofs. We only have some power restored. The water isn't safe here yet."

"What do you mean they're leaving you?!" I almost screamed. "Why?!"

"I don't KNOW! I begged them, I begged them to stay at least until we had more power restored, but they said no. They said they're pulling out tomorrow morning and that's it."

"Oh, Honey, I don't know what to say! I can't come again until the 24th with anything. I have to work until then here at the cop shop, " I told her sadly, even as my mind raced over the costs we paid for the shipment this past weekend, what's left in the donation account, and the fact that donations are DROPPING tremendously. If they don't pick up some, I can do one more run for sure to Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi, maybe one after that if they keep trickling in fast enough, but it looks bad. It looks very grim, my fellow, very loving and concerned Pagan friends. I'm dead serious about that. "Has FEMA said when they'll finally come? Have you heard any good news?"

She said, "Like I told you Saturday when you were here, they'd claimed they'd be here that day to deliver tarps for our houses."

Yeah, she did tell me so, and...

"Well, I called them Monday and they said maybe somebody would come and be here Tuesday for people to sign up to request tarps. Nobody came Saturday after all but you and Avalon Cares."

I am PISSED, my friends. Roofless houses, unsheltered children, honest people, and it's been TWO (insert cuss words here) weeks. Two weeks.

We have two problems. One is way bigger than I can fix. That's with the Government, and a charitable organization that has received MILLIONS of dollars to pass out water and ice but abandons my little people for no known reason (oh, could it be that CNN is not in town and never has been? - I have to vent some of my cynicism here).

The other one, we CAN fix. The Board of Officers of Avalon, Inc is brainstorming ways to make it more simple and desireable to get donations back up so we can help those people who are just now learning we DO care and put our money where our mouths are. We're talking t-shirts for x dollars, gimmicks....

BUT, I'm writing to you directly. I'm trying to reach those mature Pagans who don't need gimmicks, but understand truth and an honest appeal. I need those who WALK what they talk to hear me.

Missippi needs you. The posted balances look impressive, but we've spent almost half to supply the little warehouse there last weekend, and they gave it to people needing it more, and their own and it's gone and suddenly, so is the Red Cross and the water and ice they depended on for the COUNTY for now.

We can send one more heavily loaded convoy in with what is in the account now. I can do that for sure on the 24th. But, donatons have dropped from a thousand or better a day to about 100 bucks a day, frankly. At this rate, it's not going to be there for the run after that.

MANY of you have stood up and are scheduling benefits in future. I google "Avalon Cares" and have found many who are offering to donate portions of sales from their stores and some of those did not even tells us or seek promotion of their efforts and I thank you. I know. I google it and see you and bless you for sharing my dream and pain.

You have got to feel my sense of urgency. You must realize we have the best thing going and it needs to keep on. We are doing this at cost, we are organizing our receipts from the first go to PUBLISH nakedly what your donations got spent on. Officers of Avalon, Inc., is not taking a dime for any of it, I am coming out of my own pocket for alot of my costs, other volunteers also are, to make this right and genuine charity. We're doing this ourselves to ensure the money goes to victims and is spent as we intend, in good faith.

It takes ABOUT 8k for us to make a respectable run into Mississippi with a good load, and we're analyzing that to try to cut costs for transport even more to supply more product to them. But, we'd depended on water and ice to be there. If you've ever been in a post major hurricane situation, in that sweltering heat, you know ice is not a luxury. Clean water is not a luxury. Stores are closed or damaged. Coca Cola is not an option, a cup of coffee at the convenience store is not an option. A box of juice seems a major treat and helps lift hope and calms crying children.

We have run 2 covered, thanks to you. If we're tighter than the first time, we have about half of run 3, maybe. Please, who can help cover the rest of run 3? Who will help raise the funds for run 4? We can hope by then it's not so desperately needed, and we can go back to having a day off now and then and missing a bi-weekly run, but we cannot be sure.

It's urgent. The media is looking away, but I'm reporting to you what I'm hearing straight from the sources I have. They need it this weekend, but I have to work. I have to be there on the 24th though, loaded with thier needs. And two weeks later if they still need some help.

She asked me a good question, before we hung up, when we talking about the Red Cross abandoning them, we ASSUME for somewhere else.

"How is a thirsty person somewhere else more in need than a thirsty person here? We're all suffering. How could they just leave us like that?"

Please, let us not leave them like that either. CNN isn't there, nobody talks about Mississippi much beyond Gulfport, really, but someone needs to speak up for the rest.

Joie Balindjo





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