Thank You Olathe, Kansas
Too often, we never know who, why, and what brings forth the hearts and hands of those that give ---
and much to often, we never know of the duress and concerns that make their efforts into heroic deeds.
For this reason, All Mississippians should read the following unfolding of a - - -
Journey of Hope
The Francis Foundation
Wednesday, September 7, 2005
DAN J. SMITH
It was in Hattiesburg, Miss., about an hour and a half outside of Gulfport, that David Francis and Terry Clark started to worry on Sunday (September 4th).
Almost 13 hours into their journey to deliver supplies to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the pair had seen little of the devastation that had dominated national news broadcasts. They had reason to be concerned.
The Francis Family Foundation, a Kansas City-based philanthropic organization that Francis helps direct, had dedicated thousands of dollars to buy relief supplies for those displaced by the worst storm in U.S. history.
If there were evidence of a catastrophe, it seemed to be tucked in pockets hidden from highways leading to the Gulf Coast.
Some buildings showed minor damage, business otherwise seemed to move along a normal pace.
"We aren't seeing the destruction we thought we'd see," Clark said.
But the scene of relative calm in Hattiesburg would give way to one of chaos just a short distance down the road.
On (the previous) Saturday morning (Sep. 3rd), Clark began working at 6:30 a.m. to fill a 53-foot tractor trailer with more than $80,000 worth of supplies.
Intent not to wait on donations, everything inside the trailer was bought by the Francis foundation.
"I think you'll have the why – when we get there," Clark said, while loading pallets of chain saws at AES-Lawn Parts in Olathe.
"They asked us to help, and that's what we're doing," said Tom Zschoche, who manages the AES facility.
"I don't know if it's your civic duty, but I guess it's your Godly duty," Zschoche said.
Just north of AES, 29,000 cans of Pepsi products joined the chain saws later Saturday.
Pallets of foldable chairs, shade covers and gas cans bought at Dick's Sporting Goods and The Home Depot also were loaded into the truck.
Francis' organization contracted with Steve Kirby, of Universal City, Texas, to haul the load.
As politicians battled Saturday about whether race had played a part in the relief effort to this point, Kirby added his thoughts.
"Hungry is hungry," he said. "I don't care what color you are."
Other charitable organizations have urged cash donations and asked individuals not to crowd the devastated region with spontaneous and disorganized aid.
But Clark says Francis has a responsibility to help. "Why?" Clark said, "Because we can."
While public officials in Olathe and Johnson County await word from Louisiana and Mississippi concerning what assistance they can provide, officials in Francis' foundation have scoured the Kansas City area looking for suppliers of generators, water, chain saws and anything else.
With the truck scheduled to leave Saturday afternoon, Clark is on the phone that morning with state Sen. Kay O'Connor.
He has a contact in Kansas City to buy much-needed gasoline to give to the displaced residents but he doesn't have a truck to get the fuel to Gulfport.
"I told her to get me another truck," Clark said. "I can get the gas. I just need a way to haul it down there."
By 6:30 p.m. Saturday, David Francis, who owns Prairie Highlands Golf Course in Olathe, is ready to follow the truck of supplies scheduled to arrive in Mississippi on Sunday.
"I wanted to see firsthand if FEMA really does know what they're doing," Francis said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is supposed to be organizing all disaster relief operations in southern Mississippi and Louisiana, but by Sunday afternoon, Francis and Clark will have choice words and a new name for the group.
Francis said his family's foundation considered contributing money, but while on a stretch of Missouri highway, the discussion inside Clark's truck is about the advantages of delivering goods firsthand.
"David's check probably wouldn't have even cleared by the time we get back," Clark said.
In Little Rock, Ark., on Saturday night, (Sept. 3rd) the decision is made to stop at 3:30 a.m. and be back on the road by 6 a.m.
At the hotel, a table of hurricane relief information is available to patrons and supplies have been collected in the lobby with a sign directing those who have escaped the storm-ravaged region to take anything that's left.
The desk clerk says some Louisiana and Mississippi residents are living now in the same building in which Francis and Clark are staying.
On Sunday morning, Francis and Clark talk much of expectations.
Clark is convinced that FEMA paperwork intended to allow the tractor trailer to proceed through any checkpoints that may be set-up along the way has save him from a speeding ticket after he was pulled over by a Missouri Highway Patrol trooper.
"I don't think we're ready for what we're going to see," Clark says as the tractor trailer and the pickup carrying Francis and Clark leave Little Rock.
Now within hours of the region that's been described as a war zone, Francis and Clark begin seeing progressively worse devastation.
Trees are snapped like matchsticks. Road signs are twisted and separated from their bases.
"God dang', those are metal," Clark said.
A National Guard convoy carries a slow pace in one lane of traffic that stretches for miles.
Closer to Gulfport, power lines sag under the weight of trees and workers can be seen from the road clearing debris from a national forest.
Along with Francis' truckload of supplies, the highway is packed with pickups carrying tanks of gasoline and others hauling trailers with generators. Lines at filling stations 100 miles away from the coast stretch 20 or more cars deep.
Finally, the scene of desperation is starting to appear.
Hoping for an update of conditions, Clark tunes the radio into one of only a handful of radio stations still functioning almost a week after the storm.
The report includes information to help residents still in Gulfport and neighboring Biloxi find the few sites where water and gasoline are available.
"God bless anybody that's helping anybody right now,” the DJ says.
Relief efforts lack organization
Hurricane Katrina, considered the worst natural disaster in United States history, devastated the cities of Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss. Staff writer Dan J.Smith followed one local business man's efforts to provide relief to the residents of southern Mississippi.
This is the second story in a three-part series called Journey of Hope. The series will conclude in Friday's edition of The Olathe News.
DAN J. SMITH
David Francis and Terry Clark arrived in Gulfport, Miss., on Sept. 4 expecting to find an abundance of organization but found none.
An industrial corridor north of the city's downtown district is lined with scores of makeshift supply depots, but it seems no one is in charge.
Despite having paperwork in hand from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, none of the law enforcement vehicles moving through the city are interested in stopping the tractor trailer that Francis has packed full of supplies and followed to the Gulf Coast.
On several occasions, Francis jumps out of the truck that he and Clark have made the trip in to find directions to the FEMA-sponsored drop-off point.
The answer is the same every time: "We don't know where FEMA is."
Frustrated and seeing little sign of any serious damage, Francis and Clark discuss whether to reverse field and return to Kansas City with their supplies in tow.
Francis is running out of patience when he approaches Chief Deputy Larry Smith of the Escambia County Sheriff's Department, which has sent dozens of people from its ranks in Pensacola, Fla., to help with the cleanup.
It was Smith's county that was devastated by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
"To date, there's people that haven't had food, water or ice for six days," Smith said after talking with Francis. "It's not' the federal government's problem. There is a lack of organization in the state of Mississippi and the state of Louisiana. They have not made requests in a timely manner, and that's the reason why things are moving so slow."
Asked where FEMA and Francis' pre-determined drop-off point is, Smith says he doesn't know.
"We were the first law enforcement agency to arrive in Harrison County, Miss.," Smith said. "We brought in about 60 people, we've got our own portable shop, we're fully self-contained, we have food and we even brought our county road crews."
The chaotic scene that has vehicles from several different law enforcement agencies rushing through the streets of Gulfport and neighboring Biloxi, Miss., illustrates the comment that Smith seems tired of repeating when it tumbles out of his mouth.
"I have never seen such disorganization in my life," he says.
Without a clue where to dump his supplies and with service to his mobile phone fading in and out, Francis decides to let the Escambia delegation show that it can do the job.
Before he left, Francis said he wanted to make sure his supplies were delivered to those who needed them the most.
"We will be able to take your resources and make sure the people get this food, this water and these supplies," Smith said as pallets of chain saws, meals ready to eat, water and soda are taken off the truck.
Escambia County Sheriff Ron McNesby tells Francis and Clark that he has arranged for his department to take them on a tour to show them the devastation firsthand.
"There ain't any homes here," McNesby said before directing the pair to a detentions van normally used to transport prisoners. "There were homes along that Mississippi coast, but they're not even in sight anymore. There's nothing."
Shane Lewis, a detention deputy who says his brother-in-law lives in Olathe, rang in with his assessment.
"It's bad bad," Lewis said. "People underestimate this stuff too much."
Of the four houses that once stood on Mark and Mable Beverin's two-acre tract near a north-south highway outside of Gulfport, none remain when the Beverins arrive to inspect the damage Sunday.
''I'm going to clean up and start over," said Mark Beverin.
The stubbornness was just a facade, though.
Beverin's granddaughter, Sandra Boney, of Jacksonville, Fla., explains the reality that either hasn't set in for the Beverins or that Mark is hiding only to deal with later.
"They're 80 years old," Boney said. "How can they start over?"
South of the wreckage that once was the Beverins' home, casinos are gutted and a stretch of coastline that once was dotted with Civil War homes and posh hotels has been razed as if by bulldozers rather than wind and water.
What's under the rubble is more evidence of the reality that is beginning to creep in.
"Our road crews are finding bodies out there, but all we're doing is laying them beside the road and going on along," Smith said. "There is no organized effort in Mississippi. They're just doing a hit-and-miss proposition."
It could have been McNesby's assessment of the economic consequences of the storm: "Seventy-five percent of the people in this county work for casinos," he said. "The casinos are totally gone, destroyed — zip. What's happening is these people not only don't have anything - they don't have any way to get a paycheck to go get anything."
It also could have been Smith's lashing out at what was supposed to be an organized and planned response: "Money's good. You can give it to the Red Cross, but money's not an issue because there's no stores here to buy stuff from," he said. "We need food, water and ice right now. We're just trying to get their basic needs met so they can just live."
Something, though, flipped the switch for Francis and convinced him that the Escambia volunteers could do the most with the resources he could provide.
Francis and Clark had asked the Beverins to come to the Escambia encampment to be given a chain saw to help with the clean-up. Neither expected the Beverins to be there waiting when the pair pulled in to the same parking lot after a two-hour tour of the devastation with Escambia Sheriff's Sgt. Jody Villar, who lost his home last year in Ivan.
The timing, it seemed, was appropriate.
"It's what you gotta do to help people," McNesby said. "You gotta get them what they need, and I think it's a blessing that you're here."
Disorganization prompts return trip
Editor's note: Hurricane Katrina, considered the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, devastated the cities of Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss. Staff writer Dan]. Smith followed one local businessman's efforts to provide relief to the residents of southern Mississippi .. This is the final story in a three-part series appearing in The Olathe News called Journey of Hope.
DAN J. SMITH
A disparity between the public and private relief efforts trickling into southern Mississippi a week after Hurricane Katrina is evident by Monday morning.
By 7 p.m. Sunday night, David Francis and Terry Clark are driving out of Gulfport, Miss., content that $80,000 worth of supplies delivered to the storm-ravaged coast will be delivered to those who need it most.
"We can do the difficult right now," Clark says. The impossible just takes a little longer."
By comparison, the Sept. 5 headline across Page IA of The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., characterizes what government agencies have provided seven days after the storm made landfall: "Little aid, lot of misery," it reads.
"I've lost my temper several times," Robert Latham, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, told the newspaper. "It's time to throw the rule book out on this and do what's needed."
Early into their trip back to Kansas City, Francis and Clark have come up with words that they say better represent the FEMA acronym that by now has been cussed by many of the Gulf Coast residents displaced by Katrina's wrath.
"Federal Employees Missing in Action," Clark writes on a sheet of paper.
When he gets home, Clark says he'll consider making T-shirts with the new moniker.
"The best analogy for the federal government in all this is a great big fat guy who is expected to run a sprint," Clark says.
"We made a personal connection down here and found somebody that we felt we could trust. It's impressive what they're doing," Francis said of the relief effort staged by the Escambia County, Fla., Sheriff's Department, the agency that Francis has entrusted delivery of his shipment to. "The rest is kind of disappointing."
From the time Francis and Clark arrive in Gulfport until a 6 p.m. citywide curfew has cleared the streets, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the real organization that FEMA stands for, is nowhere to be seen.
The absence of organization in the city is particularly frustrating to Francis, who before leaving Kansas City worked to obtain FEMA paperwork that would have kept the tractor-trailer full of his supplies from being diverted or turned back.
"I went through about five chains of command before I got here," he says. "What we saw here was helter-skelter."
Of course the Francis Family Foundation, which awards $6 million in annual contributions, could have written a check to the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army to avoid the bureaucracy.
"But when I heard that checks weren't being processed, I thought that was ridiculous," Francis said. "It would have been weeks or months before they got it."
But even before struggling to find help in Mississippi from FEMA, Francis and Clark are frustrated with what they perceive is a lack of effort locally.
"Why Olathe, the city, or the county isn't doing this beats me," Clark said Saturday. "We're wealthy — real wealthy. This county can afford it."
Their convoy now complete, Francis and Clark are on their mobile phones as they leave the Gulf Coast. Each recalls their tour a dozen or ' more times.
Francis' next decision seems easy. The survivors of Katrina need more supplies now.
By the time he and Clark arrive in Kansas City, a loose agreement for Francis' foundation to clear $100,000 more for a second shipment is in hand.
By Tuesday, that pact is solid and Clark is busy again contacting Kellogg's, Associated Wholesale Grocers and Interstate Bakeries to arrange for another shipment — this one mostly food.
Scores of generators also will be included in this second journey to provide hope to those who survived the storm.
His second load not scheduled to arrive in Gulfport until Saturday (Sept. 10th), Francis arranges to take 30 sleeping bags to the region by airplane on Wednesday.
A contact on the ground says it's raining, and shelter is a luxury.
But at New Century Air-Center, where Francis' plane is, construction is blocking his path.
Lee Metcalfe, executive director of the Johnson County Airport Commission, proves to be another obstacle.
"It would be technically possible," to clear space for Francis' plane to take off, Metcalfe says early Wednesday. "But he should have known the runway was closed. I don't think it's appropriate to make exceptions just to accommodate him."
Metcalfe's stance eases only after meetings with county officials and another conversation with Francis. The plane is allowed to take off, and the sleeping bags are delivered.
Even with the headaches, the results have proven worth it.
"We took a chance," Francis said. "This could have blown up in our faces, but we took a chance and it paid off. We helped some people, and that's what we hoped to do."
Personally, I wish to thank David Francis and Terry Clark for their leadership, and the Francis Foundation and all the other corporate and individual givers from Olathe, Kansas, for their much needed support to the Gulf Coast and to Pass Christian.
And further, I wish to thank The Olathe News for granting permission to run this story. Particularly T.J. "Terry" Clark, who not only made the trip, but has kept us informed of the JOURNEY OF HOPE and has sent more than 100 photos taken of Pass Christian and the Gulfport/Biloxi area distribution center.
Below is a Journal of sort as related in a series of E-mails from T.J. Clark of Olathe, Kansas
The Pensacola Sheriff's department is the one we worked with. They distributed supplies and provided security. They have done a hell of a job. I also have pictures of the destruction.
T. J. Clark
The Escambia Sheriff's office have done a great job for the whole County. They were the first in and didn't wait for an invitation. They had to eat the same food that the victims did. I watched as his wife and son passed out supplies to your neighbors. This was the only way Brad got to spend time with his family. I don't know how you pay back these folks. I am sure there are people from other departments doing the same thing. If you need numbers I can get them. We are one of the richest counties in America.
Our last trip was Sunday, Sep 9 -11. We rode with Brad giving out food and supplies. There was an old white house that was built in 1901. The family was there. The man was a large and very well built person. Looked like a weight lifter. It seemed that after 12 days he was in shock. We gave them some non perishable food, a generator & Brad said he would bring him back a chain saw. The young man told me that if someone needed the generator more than him to keep it. I thought to myself that there was no one on the face of the planet that needed it more than him. He & his wife told us of their story riding out the hurricane in their house. By the looks of the property around them they should have been killed. GOD must have put his hand over their house and protected them.
We went around the corner and found 2 black guys living under tarps in their driveways. We gave one of them a generator and some food. The other guy didn't want anything but a sleeping bag. Then we went to the depot where the sheriff, volunteers & National Guard were giving out supplies. What impressed the hell out of me was watching people drive up and take minimal supplies. If they were given a case of Pepsi they handed back a 12 pack and said. "I don't need a case." They did not cram their cars and trucks full of supplies, just a few items to get by. Three guys came by in a truck and took 3 - 2packs of dole fruit and left.
T. J. Clark
I met Brad last Sunday when we brought a tractor trailer load of food to the Sheriff from Pensacola. We took a lot of the supplies over to Pass Christian & I rode around in the car with a Sheriff's Captain name Brad. We gave away supplies and put the rest of the truck-load at the depot where they were giving it to the residents of the Pass. For support, I am speaking for Olathe, I am sure when you have some sort of organized plan that I can take to the local churches & enlist them somehow. I also have some construction experience --- we do commercial & residential development in Olathe. When things are organized just let us know what we can do and I can get it in the local newspaper.
T. J. Clark