Valley woman to aid tsunami victims in Asia |

Valley woman to aid tsunami victims in Asia

Chad Abraham

A Snowmass Village woman is leaving for southern India on Thursday to bring locally donated medical supplies, water purification kits and tents to coastal villages ravaged by Sunday’s colossal earthquake and tsunami.Debbie Pennington, president and founder of Snowmass Village-based Grassroots Asia, will fly out of Aspen tomorrow morning. She will travel for more than 24 hours straight before reaching the Tamil Nadu region, where more than 8,000 people are feared dead.With her will be a strong outpouring of support from the Roaring Fork Valley.She will be carrying medical supplies – including sterile gloves, syringes and plastic containers – donated by Aspen Valley Hospital; water purification kits provided for free by the Ute Mountaineer; and tents from Factory Surplus in Glenwood Springs. Pennington is also trying to secure antibiotics to help fight the epidemics that are expected to spread throughout southern Asia.”The water purification [kits], because of the weight, is one of the best things,” she said. The kits are small, meaning “I can fill a duffel bag and be able to really make a difference.”I’m going to take what I can down there and see what we can do.”Providing life-saving support to some of the world’s poorest regions is nothing new for Pennington. In fact, she had been scheduled to fly to India before the natural disaster to work on another relief project in a northern town.But no one has tackled a relief effort of this magnitude. The death toll in Southeast Asia reached 55,000 yesterday, according to The New York Times. The U.N. health agency warned that epidemics could claim as many lives.In Tamil Nadu, Pennington’s destination, hospital teams stood by to help the injured. But three days after the disaster they were still spending most of their time tabulating the dead as ambulances hauled in more bodies, The Associated Press reported.Pitkin County Deputy Randy Smith was in Thailand when the earthquake and tsunami struck. He e-mailed his sister Monday and told her he was safe and that he was staying behind to assist in relief efforts. Sheriff’s officials had not heard anything further from Smith by Tuesday evening.In the valley and across western Colorado, offers of support have poured in, said Jean Hermanson, executive director of the Western Slope chapter of the American Red Cross.”The phone started ringing immediately first thing Monday morning,” she said. “I’m not going to say we were overwhelmed but it was certainly a steady stream of calls all day long.”People wanted to volunteer, people wanted to go to Southeast Asia.”Aspen Valley Hospital came to the aid of the millions in need when contacted by Pennington, said Ginny Dyche, AVH spokeswoman.”This is not the first time that we’ve done this kind of thing,” she said. “We’re not able to make a huge contribution, but we are very fortunate in this community and it’s the right thing to do.”Pennington was contacted yesterday as she was driving to the Aspen airport to talk with United officials about a baggage exemption. She said Grassroots Asia was founded to provide emergency relief, basic care and primary education for vulnerable children.”A lot of our work has been with trafficked children or children [orphaned by] natural disasters,” she said. “All of our stuff is volunteer and 100 percent of all donations go direct to the kids. I finance all of my own expenses and anybody else working with the organization does, too.”The former Mountain Rescue member will spend the next two months in India working on various humanitarian projects. In Tamil Nadu, she will deliver the supplies to nongovernmental organizations that are only beginning to assess the situation.”[Rescue teams] are still trying to figure out what they’re going to do over there,” Pennington said, adding that organizers are discussing how many doctors are available, routes that should be taken and other logistics. “It’s really only been in the last 72 hours that people are getting the magnitude of it.”Her itinerary includes stops in Tokyo and Bangkok before arriving in Calcutta, where she plans on buying more supplies. From there, she will either fly or take a train south into unknown devastation.”I’ve put a few calls in down there,” she said, “but a lot of the phone lines are busy. With a lot of this, you have to be a little bit flexible.”It’s a small operation, but if we can make a difference for a village then we’ll do it.”How to helpTo donate to Debbie Pennington’s relief trip to southern India, call Grassroots Asia at 923-1700 or go to can be made while she is en route to India, “and if I know about [the donations], then I can purchase more supplies in Calcutta when I take them down [south],” she said.To donate to the Red Cross effort, go to or send a contribution to American Red Cross, Western Colorado Chapter, 506 Gunnison Ave., Grand Junction, CO 81501-2620.”If people want to know what they can do, they can give money to the international response fund and that’s the key thing right now,” said Jean Hermanson, director of the chapter.Money donated to the fund goes directly to relief operations. People can designate that their donation go to a more specific cause, but “right now, contributions to the response fund are going to target the relief efforts in Southeast Asia,” she said.The international response fund will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to those in need.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is