Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Katrina Updates

October 23rd, 2005 7:03 PM

Island pair off to help in New Orleans

By Karla Araujo / Martha's Vineyard Times

When most of us watched the news coverage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we reacted with shock and disbelief. Some reached for checkbooks to make donations to charities, others simply returned to their daily lives, grateful that we live on an island off the coast of New England rather than in Louisiana. But two Island women, Wendy Breiby and Jennifer (J.J.) Johnston, decided to do something about their growing concern: they put out a call to friends and family to donate much-needed supplies, borrowed a truck from local painter David Morris, and hit the road for New Orleans this week.

"I was very concerned about the people and the area," Ms. Breiby, 34, an environmental activist, explained. "But I wasn't ready to just head down there. Then I found out I had friends already there working with groups like the Common Ground Collective and Green Earth Cluster. I talked to J.J. and learned she had completed the Red Cross disaster relief training here on the Island and was hoping to make the trip with them. While waiting, she had the idea of getting our own truck and collecting supplies. We decided to go for it."

Ms. Johnston, 41, a massage therapist and owner of Radiant Health Massage & Healing Arts in Vineyard Haven, has also been involved in political and social issues in the past.

"I was excited to train with the Red Cross," she said. "but when I found out that Wendy knew folks who were working with existing groups down there in areas where shelters weren't fully functional, I just decided to do something on my own." She was quick to add: "I think the Red Cross is doing a great job and hope to go back with them if I can take more time away from work in the future."

Ms. Breiby and Ms. Johnston plan to join forces with such organizations as the Common Ground Collective, Food Not Bombs, Green Earth Cluster, and Veterans for Peace, all of which have assembled volunteers from all over the country and have been helping with clean-up efforts and food distribution. In a series of e-mail messages, the two women asked Island residents to donate such items as non-perishable food, clothing, toiletries, medicines, linens, office supplies and cleaning equipment and materials. According to Ms. Johnston, one woman donated 50 brand-new winter coats.

"We've had a great response from people here," Ms. Breiby said. "Grocery stores, lumber yards, hardware stores, the self-storage facility at the Airport Industrial Park, and individuals. Even after they had been approached by Island churches and The Hebrew Center in earlier efforts, they were still generous."

Ms. Breiby and Ms. Johnston said they plan to camp out once they arrive in New Orleans, staying with friends along the way.

"We are excited and energized at the prospect of going to help," Ms. Johnston said. They plan to spend at least a week on site, helping to disseminate supplies and clean up in any way they can.

Ms. Breiby offered the following list of web sites for anyone interested in further donations or volunteer efforts: www.foodnotbombs.net/katrina.html www.commongroundrelief.org/2005/09/howyoucanhelp.html www.vfproadtrips.org (Veterans for Peace) http://pagancluster.org (Green Earth Cluster).

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