When the cameras go home

As we think back on Thanksgiving and look forward to Christmas, Hannukah and other upcoming holidays - as we should - let’s also think about those whose lives have been affected by Hurricane Katrina and take a look at some really miraculous work being done in Mississippi.

Although the TV news cameras have gone home, there are tens of thousands of people who have been displaced in Mississippi. Although officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced recently [1] that 35,000 people had been successfully placed in travel trailers or mobile homes as a temporary measure, thousands of Mississippians have been left homeless with many families separated.

Mary Walker Morton, senior program officer for Vitamin Relief USA (http://www.vitaminrelief.org/), told me [2] that, “A lot of Mississippians are feeling forgotten.” Since so much of the media coverage focused on Louisiana, especially New Orleans, I can understand why people feel that way. I went to the FEMA Web site, which has a 12-image slideshow of Katrina relief efforts [3]; guess how many of the slides depicted the devastation and relief efforts in Mississippi? Not even one.

Fortunately, groups supported by companies in the dietary supplement industry, such as the Vitamin Relief USA [4] and the Vitamin Angel Alliance (http://www.vitaminangels.org/), have more than stepped up to the plate for hurricane relief and are sharing the distribution of 100,000 bottles of children’s chewable multi-vitamin/mineral supplements donated by Westbury, N.Y.-based supplement ingredient maker, Tishcon.

Vitamin Relief USA and its partners are helping Mississippi [4, 2]. Ruleville Elementary School Principal Bessie Gardner had made an urgent request for multivitamins for the many young evacuees streaming into her Pearl River, Mississippi-area community so that she and others, like Reverend Hall, could “help the children fight off illness and handle the stress and trauma they face.”[4]

In addition to this, tens of thousands of vitamin bottles for this vitamin relief effort are being distributed in Mississippi through the American Red Cross, a network of churches, Head Start programs and Gateway to Care (a group of 17 medical clinics for displaced victims still housed in Houston, Texas).[4]

Although FEMA is doing heroic work in the hurricane-ravaged areas, the sense I’ve gotten from people associated with relief efforts and to whom I’ve spoken is that although billions of dollars in U.S. government relief has been pledged, it’s not getting to many of the places that could use it the most, such as Mississippi and the Pearl River area.

While it is true that all of the affected states need to be supported and rebuilt, “Mississippi had the poorest of the poor even before this struck,” added Morton.[2]

When I asked Eugene Brezany, public affairs officer for FEMA based in the staging area in Jackson, Mississippi, why more efforts are not being devoted to reaching out to the thousands of people still displaced, many of whom are still living in tents, his reply was: “Our job is not to make people whole.” [6]

But ours is, isn’t it?

So this season, as we think of gifts being brought from afar and of sacred lights, let’s also look to other lights, but in this case not from a tree or a candle but from the almost magical work that’s being done in Mississippi, and elsewhere, to help those of us who may be in a tent this holiday season. “There’s huge need down there [in Mississippi] and there’s still so much that needs to be done,” Walker added.[2]

So let’s wrap those presents with a joy-filled heart, and consider giving one or two gifts that don’t require ribbon or bows but only need the click of a mouse: www.mississippirecovery.com/donate/ and http://www.vitaminrelief.org/.

May you have a blessed—and healthful—holiday!
James J. Gormley


[1] http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=20218
[2] Mary Morton, Vitamin Relief USA, personal communication, Nov. 5, 2005.
[3] http://www.fema.gov/storm/katrina/photo_katrina1.fema?id=1
[4] http://www.vitaminrelief.org/images/pdf_images/Tishcon.pdf
[5] http://www.mississippirecovery.com//donate
[6] Eugene Brezany, public affairs officer for FEMA, personal communication, Nov. 6, 2005.

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