OVER THE weekend, as North Carolina residents braced themselves for the third hurricane in two months, a group of Columbians headed south to offer relief to flood victims.
Wilde Lake resident Ruteena Blake grew up in Wilson, N.C. -- a small tobacco farming town in the eastern part of the state.
Hearing reports of flood damage in her hometown, she sent a donation to the Red Cross for relief efforts. But that wasn't enough to satisfy her desire to help.
"Hard times have hit them like they could hit us," she said. "We're blessed in this community. People are wealthy and they're generous."
Ruteena decided to organize help for flood victims on a larger scale. She contacted friends Beulah "Meach" Buckner of Thunder Hill and Mae Beale of Owen Brown.
The women enlisted the help of the Rev. Robert Turner and his church, St. John the Evangelist Baptist Church on Route 108 in Columbia.
Ruteena's daughter, Sonja Blake, designed a flier requesting aid for North Carolina flood victims, which the women distributed at a dinner held at St. John's last month.
The fliers and word of mouth resulted in donations of clothing, canned goods, toys, books, furniture, pillows, diapers and more.
North Carolina was hit hard last month by Hurricane Floyd. News reports said that at least 49 people died and more than 6,000 homes were destroyed by high winds and flooding.
This week, Hurricane Irene brought more flooding and devastation to the rain-weary region.
Ruteena is accustomed to lending a helping hand. A resident of Columbia since 1968, she and her husband, the late Dr. Vincent Blake, began a ministry they called The Brothers and Sisters Keepers.
Ruteena says the ministry's philosophy is to assist wherever it's needed. During the holiday season, the Blakes would distribute coats, toys and food to low-income grandparents who were raising their grandchildren and needed a helping hand.
Dr. Blake died after a stroke last year at age 63.
As part of her ministry, Ruteena was host of a radio show twice a week on station WBGR from 1995 through 1998.
"I talked about self-help and love," she said.
Ruteena also operates five assisted-living homes for senior citizens in Columbia.
"We in Columbia have been so blessed," she said. "I have a passion to give back what the Lord has given me."
Friday morning, volunteers -- including Eric Liber, who brought canned food contributed by members of the B'nai Brith -- loaded two trucks, one 24-foot and one 15-foot, donated by Penske Truck Leasing in Baltimore for the trip to North Carolina.
The group -- including Ruteena Blake, Buckner, Beale, Mattie Simmons, Kurt and Pier Blake, John West and Clay Leonard -- piled into the trucks and a van for the trip south Friday afternoon.
Their first stop was in Rocky Mount, N.C., where they were met by the Rev. Raymond Price of St. John's AME Zion Church.
"The Brothers and Sisters Keepers Ministry and St. John's Baptist Church demonstrated the real essence of our Christian principles," Price said by phone Monday.
"They heard the call and they came. In the midst of the rain and the flooding over the weekend, they worked with us," he said.
Ruteena says she was touched by the plight of people who had lost everything in the floods. "You could see the devastation on their faces," she said.
Price said that although Simmons, a volunteer, recently had surgery on her foot and was wearing an orthopedic boot, she was "wading through the water to get goods into the building. That impressed many of our parishioners."
The volunteers from Columbia made deliveries to three churches in Wilson, N.C., through high winds and heavy rains before heading home Sunday.
"We felt so good helping these people, we didn't even feel tired," Ruteena said.
She hopes to make another trip to aid flood victims before the holidays.
"This isn't a problem that will be resolved tomorrow," she said, adding that she hopes to involve Howard County schools in collecting donations of new toys, coats and canned goods for families in North Carolina.
Information: Ruteena Blake, 410-730-6075.
The Howard County Office on Aging will hold a 50+ Expo from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.
This expo is free for senior citizens, their families and senior caregivers.
According to Joel Broida, coordinator for the expo, it includes more than 100 exhibitors, including representatives from assisted-living communities, financial planners, law firms specializing in elder care and insurance companies.
Free health screenings will be available for blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density and blood glucose levels.
Seminars will be offered on low-fat cooking, retirement planning, health insurance and fighting Medicare fraud, as well as talks on a variety of topics.
Bingo games and musical entertainment are planned throughout the day in high school cafeteria.
The Health Improvement Leadership Team will present "Be Excellent" -- a multimedia production aimed at encouraging responsible decision-making by adolescents -- at 7: 30 p.m. Monday at the Jim Rouse Theater at Wilde Lake High School.
Another presentation is scheduled at 6: 30 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Taylor Health System auditorium at 4100 College Ave., Ellicott City.
Middle and high school students and their parents are encouraged to attend this three-screen laser disc production, which includes movie and TV clips, top 40 music, celebrity interviews and stories to inspire teen-agers and encourage them to make decisions responsibly.
The presentation is free, but reservations are suggested.
Halloween is a week and a half away. Do you, or someone in your neighborhood, decorate your home in a big way for this spooky holiday? Call me at 410-992-7511 with addresses of west Columbia's best-decorated houses, and we'll print a list next week.