Tag Archives: Disaster Relief

Christmas isn’t all “happy happy fun-time”…

20 Dec

I’m writing this because I’m reminded that for many people, Christmas is the hardest time of year. They feel isolated, alone, lost. They feel like no-one understands what they’re going through.

Someone I knew killed himself a few days ago. He just got tired of hurting, tired of feeling alone, tired of watching the world walk right past him. We didn’t know how bad it was. We never suspected.

I could have written the letter he left behind. He felt like he wasn’t enough, like he’d let his friends and family down. He felt like an outsider. He just never “fit in”. He felt like he’d never get enough done. He felt “overwhelmed”. He felt “lost”.

Suicide rates climb during this time of year as many fall into despair. Many lose both faith and hope.

I want them to know that they aren’t alone. Many of us are getting our butts kicked right now. Many of us don’t know what the New Year will bring. But we can overcome this. We just have to find the strength. We need to let those around us know that we’re struggling. We need to reach out. We all fall down.

To illustrate this, here’s a glimpse into MY personal life;

I’m getting hate mail from people who accuse me of using my “wealth” and position (as a designer/builder of ISBU homes, I suppose) as a platform for “forcing my politics down people’s throats” as we work to help those in need in places like the Philippines, Vietnam, Haiti and other places hard hit by disaster.

They say it’s a “publicity stunt.”

It’s really ironic, actually.

First, even though we’re slowly building a new farm that will become a “teaching center”, we’re actually living in a rented house. We drive ten year old trucks and we live paycheck to paycheck. just like everyone else. At work, management gets paid LAST. There are no “lofty” bank accounts with money collecting dust piled up in them. We “barter” and we use sweat equity and then… we figure out how to cover the rest of our obligations any way that we can, just like every other middle class family in America.

We’ve always maintained the same mission; “Help every family that  we can reach.”

You see, FAMILIES built this nation. They are the SPINE that supports everything else that America shoulders.

We’ve helped families through wildfires, floods and natural disasters every chance we had, because empowering people to overcome hardship empowers them to help others. It’s the only way that we know how to help people. We do it “exponentially”, one family at a time… and then we urge them to help families when they are able.  The idea is to create more “helping hands”.

While this is happening, we’re trying to recover from each event to prepare for the next one.

After we started the operation in the Philippines (both after the Oct earthquake and then after the Typhoon – Haiyan) we knew that we were committing to a huge project. We started figuring out what was needed and then we acted on it. Lot’s of people and groups pledged help but when it came down to it, little of those promises were any good. They talked and insured that they got publicity, but then when it was time to help cover the expenses they ran like deer fleeing hunters.

(The same thing held true when Colorado flooded and people asked us for help and assistance. We did everything that we could and fell far short of our goals.)

We still had to meet shipping schedules to insure that the aid that was needed would arrive on time. This meant that many of us ponied up everything we had to insure that goods were not only secured, but that they then moved where they were supposed to.

In my family’s case, it meant selling household possessions and stuff like old guitars (that frankly were like children to me, they’d been around so long) to insure that we met our obligations and yet we still fell significantly short.

You could park a truck in the hole that is still left.

And so… my family isn’t having “Christmas” this year, nor did we celebrate the gift-giving of Hanukkah because the money for it simply isn’t there. We’re counted among the lucky who can (barely, at this point)  insure that their rent and utility bills are paid right now. Our own savings are flat-lined. I’m just glad that we can make arrangements to extend some of our payment dates out past January 1st. Some families aren’t that lucky.

A few people (I mean like 3) we know offered up a portion of their paychecks to help chip shipping costs down. They knew that we w ere trying  to fill a $19,000 hole. They know who they are and we don’t even have the words to thank them enough for helping us.

We simply know that there are people in need, people who are hungry, sick and in need of warmth and shelter who will not get it, unless someone steps up to the plate.

To those of you who promised help and then reneged, I can only shake my head in sadness. You’ve left a giant burden for others to carry, so that promises made can be fulfilled.

We’ve given up something very precious to us (that’s very difficult this year with a young one in the house) to help insure this and I pray that my young son forgives me for it. I’m just glad that he’s young enough that he won’t remember this “screw-up”.

To those who ridicule or mock us for helping others, I offer only this;

“We put our money and our shoulders where our mouths are when people needed our help. What have YOU done lately to help anyone beside yourself?”

Sometimes doing the right thing comes at great cost. It involves sacrifice. I tell myself that we’re fortunate to have jobs, a strong roof over our heads and food to eat. Yet still… I have to go explain to the rest of my family how I “screwed up and killed Christmas”. It’s actually a struggle to do the Christmas tree thing, knowing there’s not gonna be anything under it.

So, forgive me if I’m not feeling “In the Season” right about now. This one really hurts, and hopefully helps drive home this message;

If you know someone that needs help. HELP them. This is the hardest time of year for some of us. Lift them up. Hold them close. Remind them that they’re important to you. It’s easy to feel “lost”. It’s easy to feel alone. It’s easy to just want to give up.

For years in hard places, they used to tell us to “keep our heads on a swivel”. It meant to stay aware and observant.

If you have friends or co-workers who are struggling, reach out to them. Please. Even if it’s just a kind word, or the offer of a cold celebratory beer, it may just save their lives.

Four score and several pizzas ago… somebody shot a turkey and shared it with the town… ?

28 Nov

Legend has it that on this day in 1621, a bunch of guys wearing black and white outfits (some of them decked out with big shiny buckles) sat down and broke bread with a bunch of the locals (Native Americans).

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

That seems logical enough, seeing as how those Pilgrims fled oppression and then moved to someplace where they could find a new life… and there were already people there, when they landed those boats.

In school, we were taught that the Pilgrims and the Puritans got all dressed up and then ate turkey backdropped by a mountain of mashed potatoes and gravy.

Um…. Nope. First, they didn’t do this in November at all. It was more like late September or early October. If you’ve ever traveled to that part of the country this time of year, you know that it’s too damned cold for “outdoor parties” in November. That part of the country was still at the tail age of the Ice Age and winter came early and it came HARD. Hell, the snow drifts were taller than most of those guys, even with their big hats on!

I can buy that when they DID gather together, they put on their “Sunday go to meeting” garb. I mean, when they partied, they dressed for it. I’m betting life was hard and boring. If I’d lived then, I’d have put on the good clothes and then… insured everyone saw me. (I’m funny like that.) The rest of the time, they wore simple clothes tailored for farm and field work. Modest clothes. You know, no exposed ankles or boobage. That’s witch stuff. More about that later. 🙂

No, Virginia, contrary to what they taught you at Berkeley, they didn’t wear tie dye or flipflops. That kinda behavior would get you branded as a witch and then… they’d BBQ your butt in the middle of town.  Hey, some people will do anything to build a fire to huddle around… and then eat a free meal after… especially when food is scarce and the weather is in the teen’s. LOL!

No, they probably didn’t wear big shiny buckles like you see on TV. According to historical archives, they didn’t even HAVE them. We’re told that those big buckles probably came about 100 years later, arriving in the boats filled will new colonists. Fashion moved slowly in those days.

Good thing that TV moves faster or we’d never have known about these trend-setters… 😉

Pilgrims didn’t eat mashed potatoes. No, the Irish didn’t steal them all! Stop thinking like that. Now those sneaky Germans… they might have stolen them… but… I’m pretty sure that potatoes didn’t grow in that part of the country yet. And, it’s pretty hard to eat something that isn’t there. I learn this lesson every time I go to the pantry in the middle of the night to find a pop tart (Sorry @Lori Shemek) and discover that my little boy has eaten them all.

The Pilgrims did shoot everything out of the sky that they could, but wild turkeys were (and are) pretty smart. Ben Franklin commented on it later when he nominated the wild turkey as our national bird.  So, I’m betting  that the poultry on the table was probably duck and geese. If they’d have landed on the other side, they’d probably have hunted birds too. They’d have probably shot ducks and geese and even eagles… and the occasional Seahawk (because they are slow moving and easy to hit and apparently only do great things about one season every hundred years), only to discover that Seahawks were scrawny and stringy beasts, loud and boisterous, but rarely capable of doing anything that contributes reliably and redundantly to civilized society… @Alan Amend

The Pilgrims prayed, ate, talked, squawked and generally partied like “Pilgrim Rock Stars”. From what history records about the culture of the times, I’m betting it was pretty stodgy, boring stuff. I’m betting that the music sucked, too. 🙂

It was so boring that it didn’t happen much after that. This was either G_d getting bored watching a bunch of black and white clad knuckleheads look down their noses at the locals… or the fact that disease, weather conditions and poverty just killed the repeat performance. It might have been a combination of all of those things. Historical records only record that it didn’t become an annual event until much later.

As colonists came and went, the remembrance of that meal was talked about, discussed, and then carried off with them and eventually it spread all over the US. This leads me to another impression of that first party. Apparently Joe Walsh (or possibly Keith Richards) was at that first party and he/they raised hell. I mean, how else would anyone remember it for a decade after?

Hey, it could have happened. Have you SEEN Keith Richards? He could be 400 years old, easy.

Thanksgiving was an opportunity to put away food rationing, food planning and resource coveting. It was a chance to just put it out there on the table for everyone else to see.

“My table is bigger than YOUR table…”

That was important back then. Women didn’t look for guys with big hands or big feet… they looked for BIG tables.

Thanksgiving was a way of building morale. “See, we worked our butts off and we’re gonna make it through another winter. Hell honey, your mother will probably make it through winter… mumble, grumble snort…” They were thankful for all the work they’d accomplished. They were thankful that they had all their poop in a group and they didn’t have to be afraid of winter. They were thankful for those who had survived all the hard work.

They were probably thankful that their kids weren’t being raised by “Spongebob Squarepants” or “Dr McStuffin”…

As you sit down at that table today, thinking about the football that you’ll be watching while inhaling pumpkin pie later (after you arm-wrestle your M-I-L for the big slice)…

Pumpkin PIe

… think about what you’re really thankful for.

What are you thankful for – that you’ll still have tomorrow, or next month or next year?

Will you still have food in your pantry?

Will you still have meat in your freezer?

Will your family be warm, dry, well nourished and well slept?

Will your family still have a roof over their heads?

Many families next month, next year… won’t have any of those things. Many families don’t have that NOW.

As you think about giving thanks, please remember how much you really have to be thankful for.

Wherever you are today, whatever you’re doing, whoever you are with… give them a big hug and remind them just how thankful you are that they are there with you. In the blink of an eye – all of that can change.  Please, as you travel, be safe and spread the love. A little love goes a long way. Love builds bridges that last a lifetime. Build some bridges with your family. Let them remember this day and then carry it forward. It’ll give them a gift they’ll be thankful for, for a long, long time.

We’re spending the rest of this year focusing efforts to insure that families in the Philippines (and other places hard hit) have things to be thankful for too. We’ve decided that money we would have spent on the holidays will be used instead to help with emergency relief operations in the Philippines.

If you want to help, if you want to aid other families in need, if you want to help families become reunited with  those they were separated from in the typhoon… if you have a few bucks to spare to insure that other families in harm’s way are warm, fed and tended to, cared for by first responders and volunteers who gave up time with their own families because other families need them so much more… we’d love to hear from you.

There is so much to do and so little time.

If you want to help us help others during this holiday season, you can PayPal a donation (every single penny helps and will go straight to providing aid to the victims of Haiyan)  to our PayPal ID: renaissanceronin@gmail.com

If you’re a manufacture or distributor of gear that can be used by rescue workers and first responders and you want to help, PLEASE email us at: renaissanceronin@gmail.com and put “Haiyan Relief” in the subject line.

If you’re a firefighter, an EMT, a Paramedic, a Doctor or a Nurse that wants to spend some time over the holidays helping those in desperate need, please contact us at: renaissanceronin@gmail.com and put “Rescue Workers” in the subject line.

Have a happy holidays, folks. I’m signing off and heading to bed for a few hours. I’ve been up all night monitoring Philippine Emergency Relief Op chatter on the HAM radio.

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Digging out of Haiyan

11 Nov

Many of our readers know that we are actively involved in emergency and rescue operations globally.

Typhoon Haiyan in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is once again testing us as we try to help as many as we can reach.

Thousands are dead.
Hundreds of thousands are injured.
Millions are displaced.

We’re working around the clock right now. We’re tired, hungry and frankly, dragging, knowing that whatever we do, it won’t be nearly enough.  And despite all that we’re doing at this end, it’s easy to feel like we’re not doing enough as others do the heavy lifting – on the ground (in the debris and carnage) looking, digging, searching for victims of this terrible disaster.

If you want to help, please think about WHERE and to WHOM your donations and volunteer efforts actually go. Please think about how much of your donation will actually get to the people who need it. There are already reports  about well-known aid organizations in the Philippines filming  the carnage (to raise money), but not actually doing ANYTHING to aid those in need.

Haiyan - early estimates

A good friend of ours that is heavily invested in the financial sector recently reminded us of this:

Another example worth considering…

Consider a small charity ($1,000.000) with an operating efficiency of 80%. It has $200k expenses, primarily fixed. $1 million donated, and $800k actually goes to the stated purpose of the charity.

Compare that to Goodwill. $1 million donated, and only $175k goes to the stated purpose. The first $725k is used to pay the CEOs compensation. The only reason these large charities can state such an “attractive” efficiency ratio is because their extreme size actually allows them to pilfer the charity, i.e. their large inflow dwarfs their absurd fixed costs (compensation).

Also – these large charities will serve as feeder-funds to some of the smaller charities. This feeding comes with rather draconian strings attached. Most smaller charities will decline the money, because it corrupts their mission. When they feed the money to the other charities it counts 100 cents on the dollar as efficiency, regardless of the fed charities operating efficiency. Guess what a lot of these subordinate charities are? That’s right – 100% affiliated subordinates of the feeder, with abysmal efficiency. They pay excessive consulting fees the management of the feeder (superior) charity. This allows the larger charity to mask their compensation, and protect their own efficiency rating…

Be careful of charities. They are very, very, very often set up as a tool for financial or political advancement.

I have a good amount of experience in analyzing and suggesting charities. Personally, I recommend the small, grass root charities. Often, they may not have the best operating expenses on paper, maybe somewhere in the 70% range, but those numbers are deceptive. Especially when the CEO and founder has a NEGATIVE income from the charity, because they are putting so much of their own money into it.

Please consider supporting First Responders, those brave men and women on the ground in the carnage, risking all to help others. They need supplies, food, shelter. This costs huge amounts of money in lands torn apart by disaster. Remember that know that these families, these people in the streets fighting over scraps… could just as easily be US. It’s time to get our hands dirty, folks. If you’d like to help, please contact us.

God Bless Us, every one.

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HOW do you HELP?

1 Dec

Here at RR, we’d decided that Saturday will become “Update Day”.

There’s been a lot of changes here lately. Workloads are increasing, projects are defining themselves and the “old man” is slowly recovering.

(We’re still waiting for the blood to drain from his eyes, as right now he still looks like one of those “Midnight Monster Movie Ghouls.” He finds our horror “amusing”.)

Here’s the haps;

The “old man” recently spent time dealing with the Canadians. During that time, to use his own words, he “seized up”. Work round the clock dealing with “disaster and deeds yet fulfilled”… and eventually something snaps.

It usually starts with chest pains. Gasping and wheezing. Then, you fall down. It was so pronounced that he actually broke the blood vessels in his eyes, filling his eyes with blood.

He’s on the mend and he’ll be back, soon. He’s actually spending a lot of his time in bed working from a laptop on a “hospital bed table”.

While he’s mending, we’re picking up the slack.

We’re getting more and more contact from disaster areas where many others are trying to work their “solution” into the system as well.

Many of you  know that we have an ongoing presence in Haiti (many areas), Japan (Fukushima), New Zealand (Christchurch area), as well as a relief operation assisting families on the East Coast, after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.  This on top of a pretty  impressive pile of ISBU projects targeted at families around the globe…

Each disaster and geographic location defines the “solution”. There is NO “one stop” drop to solve the dilemmas that are faced.

You saw us sending HAY to Colorado families after devastating wildfires endangered their livestock.

We sent HUNDREDS of tons of hay.

Each disaster defines it’s solution.

We thought it might benefit others to talk about HOW you aid, before you actually DO it.

We’re watching another well-placed group navigate this right now.

You have to start at the grass roots community level. If Haiti taught us anything, it was that dealing with multi-level “.coms and .orgs”, tied in closely with government just didn’t work.

The focus quickly turned from humanitarian aid, to “profiting from disaster”.

Many of you that followed along and watched us testify in front of Congress, witnessed the “horrors of humanitarian aid” firsthand and then… watched as we just “did it ourselves using our own resources”.

Many of these groups asked for hefty donations or set up investment trusts to finance these boondoggles, making their managers and companies rich… and their “projects” targets poorer.

When you consider making a donation start by determining how much of each dollar of your gift will actually make it to “the fields and families” that you intend it for.

The Red Cross is profiting in the millions of dollars by soliciting donations for Sandy aid. How much of your Red Cross donation money is making it to those families that need help?

You’ve read about what WE discovered in NJ.

The percentages will make you sick to your stomach. The actual performances? Well… let’s just say we were REALLY disappointed. Want to help others? Give the help to people who are in the field doing the work. First Responders, Volunteer aid groups. Better still, donate goods that can be distributed, or materials that can be USED to help rebuild.

TARGET your aid, by determining what is needed.

HOW do you render aid to families facing devastation and crisis?

You start by asking them what they REALLY need.

For example, many groups showed up in Haiti with highly touted “disaster solutions” that were so foreign to the people who would use them, that those solutions weren’t embraceable.

In fact, in many cases,  those solutions became “parts and pillage”, as projects were stolen, stripped and then repurposed by people who tried to build what they needed, instead of what was “offered”.

(And that was IF the components could make it through “Customs” and the pillaging that occurred there regularly.)

In Africa, we watched projects fall into disrepair due to lacks of maintenance and care.

Greenhouses were dismantled and carted off to by used as glazing in huts and shanties. Wells and pumps were stripped of equipment which was then sold on the black market or worse, just abandoned, preventing the units from providing water.

You have to start with FEEDBACK from the families that you’re trying to aid.

When you do that, you’ll quickly determine how “popular” and embraceable your solution will be.

In South America, there is resistance to “aid oriented housing” due to the fact that you’re asking families to abandon what they have, for the “unknown”. It’s almost “territorial”. Families don’t WANT to leave a plot of ground they’ve staked out and secured to move to a “crafted community” that is meant to bump their standards of living.  Despite your good intentions, they just can’t get their heads around that “progress”.

To leave where they are  means abandoning their stake on that little hunk of dirt. They might then strip your project for building materials to enhance their cardboard or trash-built shelter, but you’re not going to reconstruct their society. It just doesn’t happen that way.

Your housing solution must apply to regional and cultural definitions, or it will be rejected outright.

We helped a group build ISBU based homes for families using 40′ boxes. The project failed miserably as people waited long enough for the “providers ” to move on, and then they stripped out the boxes, leaving the metal carcasses abandoned, to repurpose the materials in smaller, mud and mortar shelters that they were more familiar with. The boxes? They gradually cut them up and harvested the metals for other projects and fortification.

Don’t get us started on “tool control”. You might as well drop tools out of airplanes. In many areas, you’ll need armed guards to protect tool caches, unless you want to arrive at your project and face empty tool lockers and black marketeers looking for quick profits.

We’ve personally provided 20′ ISBUs FILLED with tools for relief projects, only to learn that the contents were stolen by “customs authorities” or pilfered and sold by people in the field, who knew that those tools represented more money than many of their families made in years. It was far easier to just steal the tools and sell them than it was to “work for progress”.

There ARE ways to “build into” these areas. But you need to insure that your solution is targeted at the occupants of those shelters you’re going to build. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, or try to force your solution down their throats.

We ARE just sick to death of those groups that show up and then preach their dogma because the locals just don’t know any better;

“We have to save them from themselves…”

We’ve actually heard this… sadly, more than once.

Honor the local cultures and traditions.

Unless you do that, unless you incorporate that into your project, you’re going to be a pariah…

Many governments in South America and Africa have money for “family housing” available.

Brazil is a good example;

The Brazilian government set aside money allowing qualified builders to build over 2 Million 42 square meter homes for poor families. However, to work in this endeavor, you’ll need start up capital, the ability to TRAIN local workers to build the required skill levels… and then you’ll need real access to materials to build with.

Sounds easy enough, right? NO. It’s a minefield.

IF you can navigate the perils, the Brazilian Government will pay you for the homes… at the end of your project. Then, THEY will  determine who gets them and how the housing is used.

We’ve seen workers who toiled for months in projects (aiming to get access to the homes they were building to house their own families) put out on the “curb” at the end of the projects. We’ve seen the housing sold off to local “developers” who then completely re-organized the projects for “profit”, and we’ve even seen these housing projects deeded over to companies to use as industrial housing in sweetheart deals that made local politician and authorities rich at the expense of poor families.

Did I mention the bribe system that always pops up as you toil to define your projects within local and governmental building codes?

If you can navigate all that (put on your body armor and eat your Wheaties first…) you need to build real solutions.

It’s not just “beyond American borders” that this happens.

The “old man’s” wife is a Native American. We’re talking “reservation” Native American. Many of us (two of us on “The Corten Crew” are Native Americans as well), including the old man have spent YEARS on the reservations trying to assist them in building safe, affordable housing.

Why is this necessary?

I’ll answer a question with a question.

Have you seen the “Government Solution” to housing on Native American Indian Reservations?

The US Government does indeed “provide” cheap housing for Native Americans. It’s usually tendered in the form of cheaply constructed modular trailers that are totally worthless when you take into consideration the climate that they were designed for.

Every single year, Native Americans freeze to death in these hovels, because they lack sufficient insulation and heating systems.

The victims are predominantly children and the aged.

The solution to this dilemma is readily available and even affordable. It’s just not “profitable” to the government contractors that build into these programs.

It sickens us. Truly.

Ambition and the desire to help others is a great thing, but it’s just a part of the recipe. You need to add heaping handfuls of local knowledge, research and then careful planning and design, guided by realistic resources and local skillsets.

Involve the locals. Their input will weigh heavily if  you are to succeed. And then understand if they aren’t interested in your “$300 house” solution. While noteworthy and valuable, it’s real value is going to be determined by the people that USE it.

We’ll keep you posted on the “old man’s” health and what’s happening here at RR. In the meantime, help a neighbor. Help someone you don’t know. Buy a toy and drop it into a “Toys for Tots” box. Donate warm clothing to your local thrift store.

It’s the Holidays. Give in to the disease. 🙂

Ho, ho, ho…

:The Corten Crew

ISBUs to the RESCUE!

18 Aug

Thanks to  YASUTAKA YOSHIMURA ARCHITECTS, it’s happening in Japan:


The talent at YSMR had a purpose: They were driven to create something called the “EX-CONTAINER PROJECT“. It’s a project to build a house utilizing the ISBU shipping container format that we all love… to provide homes for thousands of families displaced by the earthquake and tsunami hit in Japan on 11th of March, 2011.

The goal of this project was to create  high speed housing that would be lower in cost to construct, all the while providing  higher quality than “the normal temporary” housing.

Here is America, we all remember the disaster that was…  “FEMA trailers”.

Talk about a great use of cast-off containers… Why didn’t we do that HERE? Hmmm?

Category: Newly built

Structure: Steel

Total floor area: Approx. 25sq.m (maisonette type)  Approx. 27sq.m (flat type)

Maximum height: 5,391mm(maisonette type)  2,791mm(flat type)

Structural engineer: Jun Sato Structural Engineer

General contractor: Nichinan Iron Construction

Tornado Relief Project!

4 May

Attention: To all residents of Harrison or Jackson Counties, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs and outlying residents.

There is a Tornado Relief Aid truck stationed in the Winn-Dixie parking lot on Pass Rd, directly across from the across from the Wal-mart.

2384 Pass Road, Biloxi, MS.

The hope is to fill it up with food, water, clothing, furniture, tools, blankets and bedding, camping equipment (tents, sleeping bags, stoves, etc…) you name it… to take to the Tornado Victims in Smithville, MS.

Smithville was just hit by an EF-5 Tornado. You can clearly see from aerial photos the damage done by these horrific winds. This is the first EF-5 Tornado to hit Mississippi since 1966. I hope it’s the last!

Don’t forget things like childrens clothing, diapers, formula and toys! Children are the hardest hit by disaster.

If you have anything you would like to donate,  it will be manned by volunteers from 4-7 every evening this week.

You can see by the carnage that they literally need EVERYTHING!

I’ll add that cash donations are also needed, to assist in ways that can’t reach out of the back of the truck!

Please. They were there for us after Hurricane Katrina. Let’s be there for them, now.

Image Credits: WKGR, AP – via Google.