SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of displaced young victims of Hurricane Katrina are getting back to the routine of school with the help of school supplies that have been donated by volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In September and October, school supplies collected and assembled by Church members in multiple southeastern locales have made their way to damaged schools in Louisiana and Mississippi and to Georgia schools whose enrollments have skyrocketed as they have accommodated evacuees from the Gulf region.
School-supply initiatives began when reports emerged of damaged schools and displaced students. Anniston Avenue Elementary School in Gulfport, Mississippi, was the recipient of a shipment of crayons, markers, glue, notebooks, backpacks, pencils, paper and other supplies collected by members of the Church in Roswell, Georgia. The donated supplies arrived at the school as staff members were throwing away damaged books and supplies in preparation for the school’s reopening earlier this month.
“The school has lost a roof and the rain damaged many rooms and the supplies inside,” explained William D. Sowers of the stake presidency that oversees the Church’s congregations in Gulfport. “One elementary school in Gulfport was completely destroyed and the students will be reassigned to other facilities. Many of them have lost their homes, either temporarily or permanently, and their parents have lost jobs, so the supplies are needed.”
A second supply shipment from Church members in Roswell went to Gulfport’s Bel Aire Elementary School. Additionally, Gulfport congregations donated used televisions, audiovisual equipment and furniture to replace damaged items and help the school reach its targeted opening date.
Latter-day Saint students and staff members at Florida’s Lake City Middle School launched a book drive to replenish damaged school libraries in Slidell, Louisiana. The books were sorely needed at schools with storm-depleted libraries that were also taking in unprecedented numbers of students from more severely damaged elementary, middle and high schools nearby.
This has been a great opportunity for our students to express their gratitude by sharing what they have with others,” said Tom Dorsett, principal of Lake City Middle School. “These experiences are an important part of their education.”
Teenagers are taking the charge to help fellow students quite seriously. Fifteen teens from the Church’s congregation in Centerville, Georgia, blitzed the retail community to solicit donations of school supplies for the thousand-plus evacuees from Gulf areas swelling the enrollment of schools in their county. On 24 September, the teens and their leaders distributed fliers in their neighborhoods and at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Snellville, Georgia. By the end of a hot day in the sun, the young volunteers had secured more than 50 backpacks and enough supplies to fill them many times over. The next week, they met again to sort and combine supplies into kits that Gary Andrew, president of the congregation’s Young Men organization, delivered (along with a cash contribution to the school system’s social workers’ emergency fund) to Gwinnett Public Schools.
“At first I had not planned to go to Wal-Mart to collect,” said 17-year-old Anna Burke. “It was too early in the morning and it would be so hot out there. But I met an actual victim of Katrina while passing out request slips. That made all the difference about how I felt concerning the project. I’m so glad I went!”
These efforts are part of the Church’s larger relief activity, coordinated from its command center in Slidell, Louisiana. Other elements have involved the shipment of more than 100 truckloads of emergency and relief supplies and cleaning kits, continuing waves of weekend chainsaw crews cutting through tons of downed trees throughout the Gulf-coast region, employment services and emotional counseling.