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Published: Thursday, 5/25/2006

Katrina helpers on the road again

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Gail Honig of Sylvania loads furniture onto a fire truck donated by the Rotary club of St. Marys, Ohio. It will stop in Louisiana, continue to Florida, and then be shipped to Guatemala. Gail Honig of Sylvania loads furniture onto a fire truck donated by the Rotary club of St. Marys, Ohio. It will stop in Louisiana, continue to Florida, and then be shipped to Guatemala.
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After loading furniture onto a 30-year-old fire truck, three Sylvania men left town.

This week, they are going the distance - driving the fire truck to Florida and the desks, tables, and chairs to Louisiana.

Andrew Timothy, who went to hurricane-ravaged communities in March, knew he had to go back.

"We left our hearts down in Louisiana and in Slidell," he said. "The need is there. Our neighbors to the south still need a lot of help."

Several organizations, institutions, and individuals have responded to requests for assistance.

"People really want to help," said Mr. Timothy, a Rotarian and an accounting instructor at Owens Community College. He organized both outreach missions.

On the first trip, volunteers from the Toledo area formed a convoy. With them was a $7,500 check from a district Rotary office for the Hurricane Katrina relief fund in Slidell, La.

A bookmobile, donated by the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, was driven to Cameron, La., almost to the Texas border, where it was given to a branch library.

"The library was destroyed. The bookmobile was full of books. They were very excited to get it," Mr. Timothy said.

An ambulance, donated by a couple from northwest Ohio, was driven to New Orleans. From there, it was shipped to Honduras for use at a hospital that had no emergency vehicle.

A van, donated by Maumee Rotary, was driven to Slidell where the vehicle now is used for a Meals on Wheels program.

The volunteers, including four students from Owens Community College, returned to Ohio in an Owens van that was donated for the outreach project's trip.

That first trip was a "no good deed goes unpunished" situation - both the bookmobile and the ambulance puttered out; a mechanic volunteered his services to get the vehicles back on the road.

However, the mechanical problems cut into time that the group could spend helping to rebuild a shelter for abused children in Slidell.

While in Slidell this week, the men will pitch in to paint, put down carpeting, or tackle other tasks that need done, Mr. Timothy said. Accompanying the Sylvania Rotarians on the trip are William Ash of Perrysburg, an Owens student, and Samuel Mallette of Toledo, who has graduated from Owens. Both went on the first trip in March.

"The last time, we were really, really pushed for time," said Mr. Ash. He likely will stay in Slidell while others take the fire truck to Florida. "If I can be useful in Slidell, I will stay there."

The fire truck, donated by the St. Marys, Ohio, Rotary club, is part of a separate project that provides medical equipment and supplies for countries abroad. The truck will be driven to Manatee, Fla., and from there it will be shipped to Guatemala.

To help pay for the truck's fuel, the volunteers obtained $2,500 in donations, including $1,000 from the Sylvania Rotary. The funds will help offset fuel expenses for Mel Honig's pickup truck and Jim Koenigseker's Suburban.

Both of the Sylvania men will pull trailers filled with furniture that will be donated to the shelter in Slidell. It's a nice coincidence - Mr. Koenigseker is a mechanic.

Mr. Honig volunteered for the trip when he heard that another vehicle was needed to haul donated items.

"I'm going to pull a trailer fully loaded with desks, chairs, and tables," he said.

About three years ago, he helped drive a school bus to a shelter in Guatemala.

The Sylvania Rotarians learned about the plight of the Slidell shelter for abused children from Rotarians in Louisiana.

The shelter hopes to reopen by May 31, Mr. Timothy said, noting the University of Toledo donated desks for the girls' rooms at the shelter. LourdesCollege in Sylvania donated tables.

Sylvania Rotary underwrote the $2,600 purchase of 100 new chairs for the shelter. So far, donations for the chairs have been received from Sylvania United Church of Christ, Holland-Springfield Rotary, Waterville Rotary, and from a Rotarian in New London, Ohio.

Trail-Rite of Toledo donated the use of the two trailers, and Mr. Koenigseker donated bookcases, an entertainment center, and computer stations for the shelter, Mr. Timothy said.

Two of the shelter's buildings were blown off the foundations, he said.

When the hurricane warnings came, the children were reluctant to leave. "It was the only safe, stable place that they knew," Mr. Timothy said.

Although there have "horrible stories" about corruption and other problems related to the Katrina relief efforts, people are interested in helping out with the Rotarians' efforts because they know that the money and donated items will go directly to those in need, Mr. Timothy said.

"People want to help by donating stuff that is needed. Not everyone can pack for a week and go," but through donated items and monetary donations, they can help.

"Their biggest concern is to make sure the money and donated items go to those who need it," he said.

By helping others, the volunteers wind up getting more back than they give, Mr. Timothy said.

In Slidell, people who lost everything respond to the acts of kindness with smiles.

"That's inspiration in itself," Mr. Timothy said.



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