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Area people toil to help total strangers in Florida Many busy here; others go to scene


Jan Hanbury was standing yesterday outside White Marsh Mall and behind a tractor-trailer with a large sign taped to its side: "Florida Hurricane Relief."

"Oh, bless your heart. That's just what we like to see," she said, taking boxes from Rick and Cathy Barbehenn of Towson.

On the boxes, the Barbehenns had printed neatly everything they had put inside -- batteries, camping pans, Ace bandages, man's jacket, insect repellent, hydrogen peroxide, tuna fish. And below the list they had added a message to unknown workers at the end of the line in Florida:

"Best wishes. Our hearts go out to you."

It was a sentiment and a scene repeated many times statewide as people responded to the needs of the victims in hurricane-ravaged South Florida.

And most of those local relief efforts were organized by private citizens who had been moved by news reports of the storm's horrors to offer their help and solicit donations from others.

As Mrs. Hanbury worked at the truck at White Marsh Mall, she was being thanked for her efforts by nearly as many people as she was thanking for their donations.

"You keep thinking, 'How can I help? How can I help?' " said Kathy Klausmeier, as she unloaded the clothes that her daughters Krista, 9, and Andrea, 11, had pulled from their closets that morning. "I feel like the people who organized this were really great."

In Carroll County, employees at the Kmart on Englar Road in Westminster approached manager Ken Stocker on Wednesday about coordinating donations.

Mr. Stocker spent a full day on the telephone trying to find a company willing to truck the supplies to Florida.

"Roadway came through in a big way. They donated two tractor-trailers and said they would deliver them to Florida," he said.

Five members of the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad have been working in Louisiana since Tuesday.

"The volunteers report they are working hard to help the many people still without electricity and water," said a dispatcher for the group, who did not want to be identified. They will stay, she added, as long as they are needed.

Donna Derr -- director of Disaster Response for Church World Services, which is part of the multidenominational New Windsor Center in Carroll County -- said the agency has sent tents, blankets and children's kits containing vitamins, hand puppets and toiletries.

About 35 child-care volunteers from the center have already gone to Florida and are working with the Red Cross there, Ms. Derr said. "They will care for children and allow parents to focus on rebuilding their lives."

Another team of volunteers from the New Windsor Center is working in Florida to make quick repairs to roofs and will soon move into long-term rebuilding projects.

"They tell us things are incredibly chaotic in Florida," Ms. Derr said. "We have never worked a domestic disaster of this magnitude."

Mrs. Hanbury, of Bel Air, organized two drop-off points in Harford County, one at White Marsh Mall and the other at Harford Mall.

So many people brought bags of food and clothing to Harford jTC Mall by midafternoon yesterday that the truck was surrounded by a 40-foot circle of bags as workers struggled to get everything sorted and loaded.

Some donations were spontaneous. Workers at the Harford Mall truck told Mrs. Hanbury of two teen-agers who approached them empty-handed.

"One of them said he didn't have anything to donate," she said. "So he said he'd give them his shirt. And they took it."

Many people handed over bags of clothing and canned goods without a word. Others stopped to talk to the workers, some apologizing that they hadn't brought more, others angry with how the federal government had responded to the disaster.

"I can't believe our government," said Delores Sears of Abingdon, who went to White Marsh with her family to drop off bags of food. "The Army could have been down there. They [the people in Florida] shouldn't have had to ask for the help."

"People were surprised the government wasn't prepared to take care of this," said Mrs. Hanbury, who had called on family members and friends to work at the trucks in Harford County.

"There should have been a better emergency plan for a large-scale disaster."

A lot of people were very angry, she added.

"It's not something I get into with them because it serves no purpose. I just tell them to sit down and write a letter."

Mrs. Hanbury explained that she had developed a network of people willing to help in an emergency when she organized Project Hugs from Home during the Persian Gulf war last year. She coordinated a letter-writing campaign that spread throughout the country, then expanded the effort to focus on the needs of military personnel stationed outside the United States.

"When I realized the scope of the hurricane damage, I knew I had the resources in my computer -- a very broad base of civic-minded people -- and I decided to get them moving."

Ruth Hernandez, who on her own has collected and repaired used clothing for homeless children in Appalachia and Romania, gathered up 50 boxes filled with items from the 200 boxes that line the walls of her Manchester apartment.

She called the National Guard in Westminster to help her transport the boxes to a collection site in Westminster.

The Guard is not officially involved in the relief effort, said Sgt. William Guildener of the Westminster headquarters.

"We are members of this community, though, and like to help wherever we can," he said.

Members of the Jennings Chapel United Methodist Church in Howard County began a donation drive that soon included the communities of Mount Airy and Lisbon.

They have loaded a 48-foot tractor-trailer with "mostly food, baby items, and roofing supplies," said June Gordon of Jennings Chapel.

The Baltimore County Firefighters Association, meanwhile, sent the last of several tractor-trailer loads of donations to Florida, ending its initial campaign on behalf of storm victims.

The association said it was no longer accepting donated goods at its Cockeysville headquarters, where tons of food, clothing and emergency supplies had been arriving daily, but was planning to announce details of a new campaign later this week.

The biggest single donation drive was held at Memorial Stadium on Thursday night, during the Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints National Football League preseason game. Red Cross volunteers collected about $100,000 in cash and checks.

When asked their reasons for helping, many people spoke of their empathy for the hurricane victims, how easily they could imagine themselves being in their shoes.

"You know the old saying, there but for the grace of God go I," Mrs. Hanbury said. "I guess we all have to feel we're doing what we can."

How to aid local relief efforts

This week, relief efforts for the storm-ravaged areas of Florida are continuing at locations throughout Maryland. Some of the locations are:

* Sykesville town officials are accepting donations at the Town House through Sept. 11, said Town Manager James L. Schumacher. "The town is offering an outlet for people to give," he said. "All donations will be forwarded to the Salvation Army."

* Linda Sloan, director of the Carroll County Salvation Army, will accept any donations at the county offices at 100 Railroad Ave., Westminster.

* The New Windsor Center has set up a hot line, 1-800-637-5790. Callers can get information about which items are most needed.

* Gilbert Murphy, chief of the 7th District rescue squad in St. Mary's County, is running a relief effort from the Emergency Operation Center in Leonardtown at 35 Court House Drive. Today one truck will leave St. Mary's County with the food and Mr. Murphy expects to send another truck Thursday.

* In Anne Arundel County, the Red Cross is coordinating the relief efforts.

* In Howard County, all fire companies are accepting donations for the victims.

* Jan Hanbury, who is coordinating collection efforts for the Red Cross, will be setting up relief efforts in Harford County and other locations throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area as soon as she can coordinate transportation to Florida and the local drop-off locations.

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