Carbondale moves ahead with ‘adoption’ of Mississippi town
September 16, 2005
Yvette and Wes Powell of Carbondale are ready for the community’s effort to assist the hurricane-ravaged community of Pearlington, Miss.So is Sharon Taverna, whose husband, Frank Taverna, has opened collection center for donated goods in his Red Rock Plaza on Highway 133 in Carbondale.They were among about 100 residents who attended a community meeting Thursday to discuss relief efforts at the Carbondale Fire House with town and fire department officials.”Some of us are prepared to go down and stay for a couple of weeks and work on the ground there,” said Yvette Powell, who grew up in the Gulf Coast community of Bay St. Louis, located about eight miles east of Pearlington.”I’m just overwhelmed at what Carbondale wants to do for that community,” added Sharon Taverna, also a Mississippi native.The meeting was intended to gauge the level of support – in terms of donations of money and supplies, as well as volunteer help from the community – for what organizers are calling “Red Ball Express” after a World War II supply service that kept the front lines supplied.After Hurricane Katrina hit the region in late August, Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach, Police Chief Gene Schilling, Town Manager Tom Baker and other officials put their heads together to figure out where Carbondale could direct its relief efforts.”It came down to a question of where we wanted to focus our efforts, and we learned of the town of Pearlington, which was kind of off the radar screen,” Leach said.The community of about 1,600 people located near the Louisiana/Mississippi state line just east of New Orleans, took a direct hit from the hurricane.”It’s a relatively poor community, and there is a real sense of urgency there,” Leach said. “The fire house and fire trucks were damaged beyond repair, and most of the city buildings were destroyed.”Most of the people left, but many are starting to come back and are camping on their lots because their houses are gone. It’s truly a desperate situation for these people,” he said.Leach said they plan to pool town and fire department resources, along with private donations, to transport camping gear and other basic supplies to the region.But Leach is also being careful at this point to make sure the project, which could potentially consume a lot of time and resources, doesn’t get out of control.”We can’t run this program ourselves, we need some help,” he said. “We are going on the cheap for now. But if it grows it will get more expensive, and it will have to be managed by professionals.”To start, on Monday the town plans to send at least a pickup truck load of goods, or more if money and resources allow, along with a 1989 Chevy ambulance, which the local fire department is donating to the Pearlington fire department. Four members of the volunteer fire department will take turns driving the caravan.Donated supplies are being collected at the south end of the Red Rock Plaza daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.The town is also collecting monetary donations for the effort. Checks can be dropped off at Town Hall or the fire house, and may also be made at Alpine Banks (Carbondale Fire Katrina Relief Fund).”We’ll see where it goes, but I’d ideally like to see us send teams down there twice a month for three months to transport and distribute the supplies to those who need them,” Leach said. “But that gets expensive, and that’s why fund-raising is very critical.” Leach said the town has a little more than $5,000 in the bank for the relief effort, but each trip to Pearlington and back is expected to cost in the range of $3,000.