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Published: Tuesday, 9/13/2005

Bedford, Woodville line up Katrina help

BY ERICA RAY AND LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

The thousand miles that separates Bedford Township from its hurricane-ravaged fellow municipality of Pass Christian, Miss., is a long way to throw a lifeline, but residents of the Michigan community are determined to try.

Similarly, about 25 residents of Woodville in Sandusky County are reaching out to help the citizens living in a village with the same name in Mississippi.

"We found out there's a little town in Mississippi called Woodville, and residents in Woodville, Ohio, are going to help out the displaced," said resident Lori Hepler, a volunteer in the relief effort.

Woodville is near the southwest corner of Mississippi, and has a population of 1,192. Though it was not hit hard during Hurricane Katrina, the small village has almost doubled in size since residents took displaced people into their own homes.

Woodville, Ohio, resident Todd Bowman is spearheading the campaign to help those in Mississippi after hearing of their generosity in opening their doors to those in need.

"It was just an idea," Ms. Hepler said. "It's just to form a relationship and help out our neighbors to the south. They needed our help more than putting our money into a general fund and hoping it got disbursed there."

Tomorrow night, a number of Bedford Township civic groups, elected officials, and business organizations will gather in St. Luke's Lutheran Church at the corner of Sterns and Jackman roads to coordinate the township adoption of a town barely left standing by Hurricane Katrina.

Bedford Lions Club president Steve Heer said the local groups will discuss pooling their relief efforts and perhaps those of Bedford residents into a "targeted strike," a philanthropic venture they believe can offer genuine help for suffering Gulf Coast residents.

"We've been in contact with the mayor there, the police chief and fire chief, and a couple city councilmen. They told us what they need, so we're going to take it to them," said Mr. Heer, whose organization also runs a second-hand-clothing store. "The other thing about this is that we're going to be able to know exactly where our [donations] are going and who they are helping."

Located on Mississippi's Gulf Coast between Bay St. Louis and Gulfport, Pass Christian took the worst Hurricane Katrina could throw at it, and it shows, according to press accounts in the area. An estimated 90 percent of the city's buildings were flattened, the town of almost 6,600 people mostly evacuated, and rescuers and emergency personnel are still searching through the rubble to collect the dead.

The needs of the town - which rests just 10 feet above sea level - are vast. Residents there are receiving state and federal aid, as well as disaster relief from the myriad of philanthropic organizations worldwide that have responded to the disaster, Mr. Heer said.

But Bedford Township leaders want to commit themselves to restoring Pass Christian over the long haul.

"It's not going to be a one-time thing," Mr. Heer vowed of the adoption effort. "Whatever their needs are going to be over the next year or two, we're going to try and meet them."

He cited as an example the city's library, which was demolished in the tidal surge that swept away the rest of the town.

Mr. Heer said the Bedford Branch Library has committed to restocking Pass Christian's library shelves when they again are standing under a roof.

Mr. Heer said the local groups are filling a semi-trailer with goods specifically requested by officials in Pass Christian and are collecting cash contributions and gas cards for residents there. They plan to leave Bedford Township on Sept. 25.

The Woodville, Ohio, group began taking donations yesterday of batteries, flashlights, air mattresses, pillows, toiletries, baby formula, diapers, towels, and nonperishable food items, and will continue to collect items throughout the week. The drop-off point is the semi truck at Woodville United Methodist Church, 201 West First St.

Drop-off hours are 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., and 4 to 8 p.m. today through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Ms. Hepler said the truck will be on its way to Mississippi once it's full, courtesy of MCS Carriers of Northwood.

She said monetary donations will also be accepted at Sky Bank and Huntington National Bank in Woodville through an account named "Disaster Relief Fund for Woodville, Mississippi."

Contact Erika Ray at:

eray@theblade.com

or 419-724-6088.



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