To the Point for 9/8/2005


THE IMAGES ARE HORRIFYING. Over the past week the eyes of the world have been centered on the Gulf Coast of the United States — specifically the city of New Orleans — as our country begins to try and come to grips with what is one of the biggest natural disasters in our nation’s history.

Hundreds of thousands of people from Mississippi and Louisiana have lost their homes, their jobs, their way of life.

Many of them forever.

As hundreds of homes sit underwater, people are being bussed to shelters in Texas and other points around the South. They go with nothing but what they can carry; and they go with no idea when — or if — they will ever be able to go back.

As terrifying as the images coming out of New Orleans were last week, the reports of the anarchy that was going on within certain parts of the city were particularly disturbing.

My family and I spent a couple of days in New Orleans last year, staying about a block from the Convention Center near the French Quarter.

It is that same convention center that became a literal battleground last week, as thousands of citizens were taken hostage there, first by vigilantes and finally by their own government.

Once the normal citizens of the city had been taken to shelters and other areas for help, New Orleans was left open to those people who had no intention of going anywhere. Looting and other crimes ran rampant in the streets, and police officers, weary after days and days of work, began to walk off of the job that had become overwhelming.

That left the criminals and the thugs to try and take control of the city, and with thousands of people trying to find shelter in the convention center, they almost did. Armed and dangerous, these people believed that they could take over the city — and they almost did.

But what was so disturbing was that the city, state, and national officials that put those citizens in the convention center in the first place never came to their aid once trouble broke out.

In fact, in what was termed an effort to protect them by keeping them off of the streets, those people were locked in the convention center — with no food, no electricity, no protection. The people who put them there for protection apparently forgot about them when it came to ongoing aid.

An image of an elderly lady who had passed away during the crisis jolted me into the reality of the situation. Those who had found her body had wrapped her in a blanket, placed her body back in her wheelchair, and left her beside the wall of the convention center on the sidewalk.

And there she stayed. No one knew who she was. No one knew of any relatives, and no one came to take her away. It was though dignity and respect were also washed away with the broken levee.

But in the darkest moments of our country, we also begin to see some magnificent light shining through.

Millions of people are donating money and supplies to the relief effort. From the biggest cities to the smallest towns, people are coming together to help their fellow man. From Biloxi to Gulfport to New Orleans, supply trucks and Red Cross personnel spread out across the area. Help is arriving at shelters in Houston and San Antonio and other areas, and it comes down to individuals who are taking the responsibility of trying to help.

My neighbor Alice Whitham stopped by our home the other night. She was collecting canned goods and other supplies to be sent to that area. Belterra and its employees were filling trucks with goods for trips South, and many local residents here were making donations to agencies such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

What more can be done? Perhaps as a community we might dare to dream big things.

Maybe this is an opportunity for Switzerland County to stretch out its arms and invite one or more families to come here until they can get back on their feet. Some of those affected are already here staying with relatives, but there are others in that area who have nothing and no one.

Maybe they can have us.

Perhaps there’s a home in this county that someone will open the doors to for a displaced family. Maybe residents can fill that home with furniture and food and supplies so a family can have a chance for a better start. There may be jobs offered and school supplies made available.

Whatever it is, maybe there’s a family that needs us.

Right here. Right now.

Sound like a massive undertaking? In the 21 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve come to love this place and you people. I’m here for a reason, just like all of you. Maybe what makes this a special place for us will also make it a special place for some family who is looking for a fresh start and a new life.

All I know is that if we don’t dream big dreams, then we will never know just how generous and how loving and how compassionate this county and its citizens can be.

How do we find a family? I believe that if we are organized and have something to offer, some agency somewhere will connect us with a family who needs us.

Can we do it? I truly believe we can. Want to try? Call Vevay Newspapers and tell us what you have to offer. If everyone shares a bit, we can truly make a huge difference in the lives of people who need us.

Who need you.

Can we do it? Can you help?