November 29, 2005 – I just got back from our Thanksgiving holiday in the Gulf Coast. It was beyond successful as we fed over 1,000 people. My motivation for organizing Thanksgiving and Christmas came from working hands-on in the Gulf Coast. After my second trip down South, it hit me that the holidays were coming up and that most people affected by Hurricane Katrina and Rita would not be able to celebrate the holiday season as we traditionally celebrate it. Yes, people are thankful to be alive and thankful for the aid coming from total strangers, but to be able to celebrate the holidays the way everyone knew became the catalyst.
We met our financial goal in the 11th hour to cover the cost of the dinner, which was around $5 per person. The remainder of the monies raised so far will go towards Christmas and the rebuilding process. I purchased breathing respirators with the help of Flemington Department Store, so that the residents who are desperate to work inside their homes would be protected from the nine different kinds of mold growing down there. This mold is so dangerous that breathing them in could cause damage severe enough to be life-threatening.
Any financial contribution should be made to "Key Chapter of the American Red Cross" and in the memo section of the check it MUST say "Hancock County Holidays and Community Rebuilding."
The Key Chapter of the ARC in Meridian has agreed to collect all donations stemming from this relief effort and put it in a special account to be used specifically for the people in Hancock County. This allows us the benefit of a not-for-profit status and we don't pay tax on the goods we purchase for the people we are serving. The people will receive direct benefit of the money, and contributors receive a tax donation receipt. We can purchase more for less.
The people affected by this catastrophic storm are depressed. The areas hardest hit have lost everything. The economy has taken a major blow, the land is contaminated and will take years to clean, transportation has been drastically crippled, and the communities continue to suffer three months after the storm. I felt that I needed to do something that would help alleviate the depression and instill a sense of hope and renewed faith. I put the word out that I was organizing a Thanksgiving dinner. Pretty soon, my desire to share Thanksgiving dinner was coming to fruition.
The outpouring of support from my local community was incredible. My local papers did a story on my relief efforts and how they went from my personal desire to make a difference into a relief effort that spans six states with a donor base of 5,000 people. I researched starting a non-profit to collect the monies raised and discovered that it would take too long, so I approached the Key Chapter of the ARC with an idea and the rest is history. I entered into a third party agreement for the Key Chapter to accept financial donations on behalf of the relief efforts going on in my world. When people found out that their donations were bypassing bureaucracy and going directly to the victims, it opened up the relief efforts.
The people are angry with the government and with just cause. While I would not expect the government to do the things that we are doing, I would expect them to provide basic survival for the people. As much as the people in the Gulf Coast need stability and housing, the timeframe for this to happen would not be in time for the holidays and eating an MRE Turkey dinner wasn't going to cut it.
I am hopeful that people will look into their hearts and realize that this is a temporary situation in which a great deal of help is required. I am also hopeful that we can break the depression and show people that they are cared about and life will get back to normal for them.
I wanted to thank some of those who helped make it possible:
• ShopRite in Flemington (Joseph Colalillo, Owner) donated 1,200 lbs of turkey
• Johanna Foods, Inc. (Bob Facchina, owner) of Flemington donated all the juice drinks (30 cases)
• The Flemington-Raritan Business Association (Michael Schreck, President) gave us a $4,000 donation
• Cocco's Cafe (Erica Edwards, owner) on Main Street in Flemington has been instrumental in helping me organize the Thanksgiving Dinner for 1,000 in Hancock County
• Norman and Carol of the Market Roost on Main Street in Flemington helped design and cost of the menu
• Brian Bernard of Associated Grocers out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana has helped orchestrate the pick up of the food through the Diamondhead Supermarket in Diamondhead, Mississippi so that the local economy benefits as well as feeding people
• Enterprise Rent-A-Car on Route 202/31 in Flemington, NJ donated the use of a truck to be able to transport the donations and pick up the food
• Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ (Jennifer Spieker, Vice Principal) donated goods and $3,500 for the holidays as well as $5,000 to go to the Key Chapter of the ARC in Meridian, Mississippi
• The St. Magdalen's Junior Youth Group made the coolest piñatas ever seen
• Friends and residents of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, Long Island, New York, Marietta, Georgia and Pennsylvania have all contributed financially to the Thanksgiving Dinner
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