Havre Daily News
Two pairs of local volunteers are back from the Gulf Coast, where they both contributed what they could to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. One pair helped out at a Red Cross shelter, and the other drove a tractor-trailer full of donated supplies.
Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson traveled with his 23-year-old daughter Candi Anderson to work for 2 weeks at a shelter in the 600-person town of Morganza, La. The two left at the end of September and returned last week, awed by the number of people affected by Katrina.
Near the end of the Andersons' stay in Louisiana, area ranchers Russel Verploegen and Robert Molitor were completing their trip, a quick one. They dropped off a trailer full of supplies at the Salvation Army warehouse in Baton Rouge, La. The supplies were collected by Katrina Aid Montana at Calvary Chapel of Great Falls, and the trip was organized by the Salvation Army in Great Falls. “I think we made some positive influences in some people's lives,” Mike Anderson said after returning from Morganza. “I know it made a positive influence in my life.”
Verploegen and Molitor said they drove the supplies because time and a truck was what they had to give.
“We just wanted to help out and that was the only way we could,” Molitor said this week.
Candi Anderson was the one who proposed the trip she and her father took, and she said she's very glad she did.
“It really opens up your mind. It kind of makes you not take the things for granted that you have,” she said. “It's just devastating how many people are without homes.”
Mike is a former firefighter and is a trained EMT, and his daughter is a nurse. The two, along with several other volunteers, ran a nurses' station at a 300-person shelter in a former high school in Morganza. Everyone at the shelter was from New Orleans, Mike said.
Sleeping every night on cots in the school principal's office, Mike said, he and Candi woke every morning to loud and busy days. Their shelter had 40 children, a higher percentage than most shelters, he said.
Aside from getting a nurses' station organized, one of Candi's goals was to make sure the children had at least an hour of structured activity each day.
“It seemed like a lot of the kids I worked with didn't have structure in their lives anyway and then the hurricane made it worse,” Candi said. “It was something I wanted to do because I wanted the kids to feel like they were special too.”
Both Mike and Candi, outside their regular duties of taking blood pressures and distributing medications, helped people use the Internet to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid or search for family members. Mike said he helped many people list themselves on a Red Cross registry so family members could find them.
Generally, things went well, but it was tense at times, Mike said.
“They were generally in good spirits, but they were short-fused,” he said. “They were on the edge.”
Mike said he and his daughter got contact information from many of the people they met. They have not been in touch with any evacuees yet, but heard from shelter organizers that the shelter is beginning to empty, with half the number left from when the Andersons were there. Some are finding temporary housing, others moving in with relatives, Mike said.
Candi plans to send one girl a stethoscope. The girl wants to be a pediatrician, and Candi said it might encourage her.
“She was a really good kid anyway. I don't need to push her to get her on the right track,” Candi said. The gift is “just to show her that I cared about her.”
Mike and Candi's situation was different from that of most Red Cross volunteers, he said. Many stayed at a shelter just for volunteers and traveled to evacuees' shelters for their shift. Because Morganza is 50 miles from Baton Rouge, and the shelter was small, they lived with the evacuees.
The arrangements worked well, Mike said. Two men at the shelter had been chefs at New Orleans restaurants.
“We ate well,” he said.
When Mike and Candi first arrived, a doctor and two nurses were at the shelter. Over the next few days, they left, and Mike and Candi were the only on-site medical staff for a while. They helped people manage diabetes and get the medication they needed. Somebody from a nearby health clinic checked in daily, Mike said.
When it was just the two Andersons, Candi was in charge.
“I think that was probably the most gratifying thing for me, was I was able to interact with my daughter as an adult,” Mike said.
Verploegen and Molitor spent most of their trip driving. They left Great Falls on Oct. 8 and drove straight through, Molitor said. They arrived in Baton Rouge on Oct. 10 and spent a few hours unloading the truck with volunteers there.
Next, they went to a mall outside Lafayette to look around.
“We met some really neat people in the mall - but we felt like fish out of water,” Molitor said. “There's probably more people in the mall than in Havre.”
The plan was to spend the next day looking around and return by way of New Orleans.
The two had good luck and bad luck at the same moment. They found a motel room, but when they returned to get the truck, it would not run. That meant two nights in a motel outside Lafayette, and the loss of a day on truck repair. As soon as the truck, which belongs to Verploegen, was fixed, the two headed back to Montana.
Molitor said they saw some evidence of the hurricane where they were - signs that had blown down. They heard of boats stuck on rooftops.
The prime evidence of a disaster was lots of traffic, Verploegen said.
Hope on the Hi-Line, a local organization created to help hurricane victims, along with the Salvation Army, helped pay for the men's trip, they said. In the end, they had a few hundred dollars to give back to Hope on the Hi-Line.
Though most of their time was spent in the truck, Verploegen said it was still a bit of a vacation and a chance to see some of the country, even if through a window. They also had one Cajun meal.
“This was not our everyday job,” Molitor said. “It's an experience. I can say I've done it.”