When Kim Bergeron and Donna O’Daniels watched the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, they felt the need to respond. The two women are already community leaders — Bergeron as director of cultural affairs for the City of Slidell and O’Daniels as President and CEO of the St. Tammany Parish Tourist and Convention Commission – and knew they had contacts within St. Tammany and beyond. But how could they best organize local donors to make a difference in far-away New Jersey?
At about midnight Thursday, November 1, the two conceived “Train of Hope.” The idea was to recruit Amtrak, which has a passenger train that passes through Slidell, to help carry relief supplies to beleaguered storm survivors. A Facebook page and a few emails later, and Train of Hope was off and running.
With the help of Sen. David Vitter and other influential officials, Amtrak embraced the idea. Just a week after the idea was born, when the train makes its routine departure on Friday, November 9, it will be carrying a load of donations that have been contributed by people from St. Tammany and beyond.
While concerned people far from a disaster area are usually asked to make cash donations to organizations that provide immediate aid on the ground, there are some things those organizations don’t provide – or can’t provide quickly. The approach of winter weather makes some needs even more pressing for Sandy’s victims.
O’Daniels and Bergeron have been in touch with officials in Newark and Hoboken, NJ, to learn their needs, and have created a list of necessary supplies, including blankets, flashlights and D batteries (no candles, please), baby formula and food, toiletries, socks, non-perishable food, men’s work boots sizes 9 through 12, hand sanitizer and pet needs including dog and cat food and kitty litter.
“As a suburban community that has been through disasters, St. Tammany’s citizens know firsthand that attention is always focused first on larger, urban areas,” Bergeron said. “While many areas need help right now, we thought focusing on these smaller New Jersey cities would provide short-term assistance in a place that might otherwise be overlooked.”
“In our recent past, volunteers and donations came from every corner of our country to help us when we needed it the most,” O’Daniels said. “That spirit of giving made things a lot better for a lot of people. Many of our citizens are regular donors to national charities, and we support those efforts. But sometimes it feels like it’s not enough – and sometimes it really isn’t. Sometimes the basic needs are best provided through direct donations.”
“Train of Hope isn’t ‘paying it back,’” said Bergeron. “It’s paying it forward. While election years often lead to feelings of division between us, the bottom line is that we’re all family in this country. In times like this, there are no red states or blue states; there are only people in need, with needs we are able to meet. When we needed it, they gave us help – and hope. We need to give them both, too. That’s what Train of Hope is meant to do.”
Many businesses have offered to serve as drop-off locations throughout the parish. Right now, those include the St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission Visitor Center, 68099 Highway 59 near Mandeville; the City of Slidell's Department of Cultural & Public Affairs, 250 Bouscaren St., Suite 304; Coscino's Italian Grill, 1809 N Causeway Blvd., Mandeville; Advanced Bio-Medical and kiisa, 1134 Brownswitch Road, Slidell; Serenity Home and Gifts, 1660 Highway 59, Mandeville; Family Cuts at all five St. Tammany locations: 106 Hwy 190 West by Piccadilly, 61103 Airport Rd by IHOP, 4350 Hwy 22 by Rouse's, 3078 Gause E. by Mizers, 69284 Hwy 21 close to Target; Homewood Suites, 175 Holiday Blvd (next to Sam's), Slidell; and Lowry, Dunham, Case and Vivien Insurance, 2001 1st Street, Slidell.
Donors are asked to box their donations for easier loading and transport, but all donations will be accepted.
For more information about the loading and departure of the Train of Hope, contact O'Daniels at 985-966-2823 or Bergeron at 985 646 4375. More information can also be found at http://www.facebook.com/TrainofHopeSandyRelief, which is updated frequently.