Havre Daily News
Julianne LaSmith issued a challenge to Havre area residents to open their homes and pocketbooks to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and locals responded.
A town meeting Thursday in the community center at the Holiday Village Shopping Center not only found hosts for 13 families made homeless by Katrina, but also collected $892.
LaSmith said she was there just to get the ball rolling. But since no one else volunteered to head the effort, named Hope on the Hi-Line during Thursday's meeting, LaSmith said she'd take that job as well, until someone else steps up.
"I don't want this to be my baby, I want it to be your baby," she told the crowd of about 100 people who responded to her public plea to help.
The needs of Hope on the Hi-Line were broken down into 13 committees, including categories like housing, clothing, day care and fundraising. Each committee was given a volunteer head, except day care, but LaSmith said she knows someone who could do it. At the end of the meeting, lists were made of others willing to help each committee. All of the groups and any other interested parties will meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the community center at Holiday Village.
Attendees voiced some concerns about victims being able to adjust to the differences in climate and culture.
"We're not going to lie to them. We're going to tell them it snows here," LaSmith said.
"If you're doing it from you're heart, it doesn't matter your culture, race or financial status," said Gale Vaandering of Gildford.
"I'm a poor person, but I will open my door and help out," said Vaandering. He volunteered to head the transportation committee, to host a family with the help of Gildford Baptist Church and also volunteered his hat when someone suggested taking donations at the meeting.
His hat ended up filled with just short of $900 by the end, when Vaandering held the hat over his head and said, "If we can do this in just this hour, imagine what this town can do."
LaSmith said possible recipients will be subjected to criminal background checks and given questionnaires regarding lifestyle, smoking, eating habits and other categories that will help place the families. Some wondered if questions such as "Do you like elk and buffalo?" should be added to questionnaires.
State Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, who is a member of the Chippewa Cree tribal council, said the Chippewa Cree will host a family.
"We'll even donate a winter coat," he joked.
Volunteers included individuals, families, businesses and churches. Karl Lorett, who lives south of Zurich, said he'll open his home to a family. Lorett said he'll have his children share rooms to open space. It'll be crowded but that's OK, he added.
Hi-Line Christian Church hopes to help with temporary housing in the church. The church has been working on what it calls Jubilee House but didn't expect to have the transitional housing up and running for another year. The housing includes five bedrooms, a kitchen and plenty of room for kids to run around, said Pastor Vernon Brown. The Jubilee House efforts will be ongoing, not just for the hurricane refugees.
"I am so proud to live in Havre, Montana," LaSmith said at the close of the meeting.
Donations can be made out to Hi-Line Christian Church with a memo of Hope on the Hi-Line and the specific need the money should go to such as food or furniture.
LaSmith said a dropoff point will be designated for donated items.
Call Hi-Line Christian Church at 265-2290 or the mall office at 265-2533 for more information.