Reproduced from The Record

Friday, September 16, 2005

by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City of Englewood

2-10 N. Van Brunt Street

Englewood , NJ 07631


Little by Little, New Jerseyans Help Katrina's Displaced

Friday, September 16, 2005


ALTHOUGH NOT one of the major destinations for hurricane evacuees, North Jersey is getting a steady flow of Gulf Coast victims of Katrina.

Dwight Morrow High School teacher Nadine Green went down to the disaster area to drive back with her sister, who can't return to work at Xavier University in New Orleans or home in Jefferson Parish.

"It's pretty overwhelming," Green said. "A lot of people are being scattered all over the country, so what are you going to do to help them get on their feet and start over?"

We're still only seeing the tip of the iceberg of the natural disaster that Red Cross officials call the worst they ever handled. Katrina survivors are on everybody's mind, whether they have relatives in the stricken Gulf region or not. All over Bergen and Passaic, little volunteer efforts are making a big difference in the lives of survivors suffering major personal and material losses.

While FEMA head Michael Brown was falling on his sword, and a vacation-fatigued President Bush issued a meaningless mea culpa for the mishandling of the disaster, a sincere outpouring of goodwill from caring volunteers fills important human needs.

And Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, who raised the donation to pay for a truck, says he wants to make Englewood the center for Bergen County relief efforts.

The Rev. Greg Jackson of Hackensack's Mount Olive Baptist Church and president of the Bergen Council of Churches has 5,000 pairs of sturdy boots donated for survivors in Texas. In a few days he'll be going to Lake Charles, La., to work on a joint relief effort with other clerics.

There's solace in knowing that ordinary people are skirting the bureaucratic debacle to help traumatized strangers keep their heads above water.

That is quite evident here in North Jersey. One of many volunteer efforts, an ad hoc group in Englewood managed to collect a truckload of goods in a few days and transport it to a shelter in Texas.

Among the teenagers and adults loading the truck at breakneck speed earlier this week, Alexander Quiles reflected the urgency that drew many in Bergen into the spirit of sharing.

"Being a part of this is humbling to me," said Quiles, 17, a Dwight Morrow senior. "I see how fortunate I am. There's always been someone in my life to help me if things got hard. I can give back, and that's what I'm doing."

NAACP Vice President Derek Boone pulled the coalition of community groups together to box donations delivered to the Elks Club from Oradell, Ridgewood, Paramus, Teaneck and elsewhere. "We have to thank people who showed up from everywhere with stuff for babies, new clothes, a wheel chair. One man came from Montvale with more than 50 boxes," he said.

This group also got an offer of a rent-free house in Englewood and found a displaced young New Orleans family to occupy it.

The sun was barely up in Englewood when a volunteer from that group, Danette Adams, jumped in her SUV early Sunday morning and headed for Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a family for church. It wasn't just any family.

With little more than a pillowcase stuffed with towels, the family, Sandrik, 24, Jarmel, 25, and a girl, Gabria, 6, had hitchhiked from New Orleans to Atlanta. They then caught a bus to New York, finally ending up in Brooklyn last week. Eager to settle soon in Englewood, they've been trying all the while to locate a missing 3-year-old son, and his 20-year-old uncle.

By mid-week, Red Cross relief workers were serving seven newcomers a day in the Bergen office.

Tens of thousands of residents could be displaced into next year before they learn if rebuilding plans will make it possible for them to go home.

While local communities pitch in mitzvah by mitzvah to help survivors, a government agency with the strength of the Depression-Era Tennessee Valley Authority needs to be created to restore housing and industry in the multi-state disaster area.




Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer