Touchstone Story #61–Katrina

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Lions Club District Governor Ann Sanders of District 8 L in Louisiana, “and I never want to see it again.”

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in American history, and one of its deadliest hurricanes. Several hours north of New Orleans, Louisiana, District 8 L was largely untouched by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Category 5 hurricane that struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, but evacuees from hard-hit areas came to Sanders’ district because there was nothing left of their homes.

“People came here with only the clothes on their back,” Sanders said. “We [had] babies who needed diapers and food.”

The Lions from 8 L collected several thousand dollars to help the evacuees. Clubs across the United States sprang to action. Lions in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida staffed shelters, collected donations and gave out food and supplies. Clubs near and far sent donations, and Lions from Maine coordinated the delivery of enough food, clothing and medical supplies to fill two 18-wheelers. The Lions Clubs International Foundation gave a US$200,000 Major Catastrophe Grant to meet immediate needs of people displaced by the storm, as well as an additional US$10,000 in emergency vouchers for food, water and medicine.

LCIF also mobilized US$5.1 million from Lions around the world to fund projects in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama.

But those are just the numbers. While New Orleans got the most media coverage, other areas of the Gulf Coast also struggled to recover. Dick Cottrill of the Ruidoso Valley Noon Lions Club in, New Mexico suggested “adopting” the Diamondhead, Mississippi, club in their time of need. The motion was passed unanimously. Cottrill worked with Diamondhead Lions Club President Ted McCabe, and they agreed that the two clubs’ top priority would be to make the Bay Waveland Elementary School library functional again.

The school was still standing after the storm, but the library had been wiped out. Students were attending classes in FEMA trailers. The Ruidoso club raised more than $1,500 to replace K-3 books. Cottrill recruited Teri Hardiman, a teacher at Nob Hill School in Ruidoso, and collected books, teaching materials and donations for Bay Waveland Elementary.

In fact, they collected so many donations that they had a new problem: how to get them to Mississippi.

Four members of the Ruidoso club took a straightforward approach: They loaded up a truck and drove more than 1,100 miles to Diamondhead.

One of the traveling Lions, Bryan McCool, remembers arriving with computers, books and school supplies and being met by the Diamondhead Lions they’d been working with from afar.

“An elderly gentleman who came up during the unloading process, introduced himself and gave us a big hug,” McCool said. “He said, ‘Thank God for folks like you all. Your kindness and caring will help us make it through this terrible time.’

“The folks in Diamondhead were some of the nicest we have ever met. Their strength and positive attitude in such a time of strife were extraordinary. It was an honor to serve with such a great group of people.”

In the wake of one of the worst disasters in American history, the Lions were cutting through red tape and providing help where it was needed most.

Explore the exciting history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series. Don’t forget to share these stories with new members so they gain an understanding of Lions history!

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