ABBEVILLE, La. -- When it became apparent that Katrina was drawing a bead on New Orleans as the giant hurricane approached land in late August, few -- if any of us -- were prepared for the aftermath.
It is not melodramatic to say that its effect on New Orleans and surrounding parishes and on southern Mississippi and Alabama was unprecedented and indescribable.
The effects as of press time in early September, as they're surely to still be when you receive this magazine, are still indescribable.
Gretchen Varnell, South Louisiana WOW Camp and Fraternal Coordinator for S-LA Woodmen of the World Youth Camp, Inc., in Abbeville, La., about two hours west of New Orleans, perhaps described the indescribable best with the word "pockets". Our understanding of the disaster and its ramifications comes in pockets.
It's difficult, if not impossible, with displaced families spread out across the southern U.S. and beyond in various shelters, coupled with the uncertainties of when and even if they'll be able to return, to grasp the enormity of the situation. Even in this vast media-rich information age the puzzling pace of reporting across all the electronic media may even create more obscurity by its sheer volume, and place us deeper in our own isolated pockets.
It leaves those of us who aren't dealing with it first-hand grasping for ways to help. Many of us would like to lend a hand in a significant way. Perhaps we've already donated to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or any number of organizations dedicated to providing relief, but would like to help people individually.
Varnell says it's even more difficult in areas where they're dealing with the storm's consequences on the spot, as they are at this Woodmen of the World Youth Camp, where they're sheltering a number of families displaced by Katrina. Varnell says there are many camps across the affected states filled to capacity with evacuees. "There's one camp hosting 125 families. We're doing a small part in a very large effort across the area," she says.
As we were going to press, I spoke with Varnell about what, exactly, they're dealing with, and how other camps can help. I received a rapid-fire response that belies the complex task at hand -- one that will continue for well beyond even the foreseeable future.
She told me of the day-to-day challenges of families separated by hundreds, and even thousands of miles in different shelters, of how the task of organizing the various agencies and caregivers to provide concerted and efficient relief has been a monumental task, the difficulties with supplies (they're still needed, by the way, so keep donating) and how helping just one family get even somewhat integrated into their new community takes a lot of time and effort.
There's a much longer and larger story here in just some of the story Varnell had time to tell me. It is this story, and others like it, that we'll continue to tell in the coming months and years here in Camp Business, and in real time at our new blog on-line at campbusiness.blogspot.com.
Varnell left me with this quote from Mother Theresa, "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop."
You too can be one of those important drops. Camps across America have the opportunity to pour buckets by helping other camps who are currently helping displaced Americans, or by hosting children on scholarship at your camp, or any myriad of support services that camps are uniquely positioned to offer.
It seems daunting just navigating the avenues of relief opportunities, but here's at least a partial list of organizations that can help you meet specific needs in specific locations, or just to make a general donation:
American Camp Association
ACA has a special page set up just for relief efforts, including information about specific camps in the areas that need help.
Christian Camp and Conference Association
CCCA also has a page set up for helping specific camps, faith-based organizations and people in the areas affected.
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
A good clearinghouse for the myriad of organizations involved in relief work.
National Fraternal Congress of America
A clearinghouse of fraternal organizations -- such as Woodmen of the World and Knights of Columbus -- that are helping with relief efforts. Local fraternal chapters are also good resources, as are faith-based groups and denominations.
Woodmen of the World
The American Red Cross
The Salvation Army
Regan D. Dickinson
Phone: (830) 257-1012
Fax: (830) 257-1020
PO Box 291773, Kerrville, TX 78029