Trucken for Katrina: Michigan Families Donate Adopting Families on the Gulf Coast

katrina-landmark-news_0004.jpgTrucken for Katrina: A project started in the Landmark Team Management and Leadership Program 

Not long after Hurricane Katrina hit Sherrill Sundberg learned that one of her neighbors had 4 separate family members who each lost their homes.  She was participating in the Landmark Team Management and Leadership Program at the time and immediately knew what she was going to do for her project.  

Over 100,000 people literally lost everything they had in Katrina and now nearly two years later, the scope of the need has barely diminished.   Like most people Sherrill wanted to whatever she could do to contribute to the relief effort.  Her initial project was named “Christmas in New Orleans”.  It had an initial goal of providing “Christmas for the families of the four relatives of her neighbor.  Each family was to be given a Christmas dinner and each member of the family was to be given new clothing and  three gifts of their choice.  

While attending one of the weekends of the Team Management and Leadership Program she was challenged by another participant to expand the scope of her project.  She accepted expanding her project to 10 families.  Soon the program exploded to 25 families receiving  ”Christmas in New Orleans” .  In total 92 people received “Christmas” and 250 families experienced the gift of generosity at Christmas.    A Katrina Truck being loaded by vollunteers in Michigan

As it turned out, this was just the beginning of an odyssey of contribution for Sherrill.  After that first Christmas, Sherrill knew that the project had to continue in some way, as they had not even scratched the surface of what was needed.   

As an active member of her Commerce United Methodist Congregation she naturally had invited other church members to participate in the project.   Sherrill met a lady who was so inspired by the purpose of the project, cashed in the equity of a life insurance policy in order pay for trucks that would transport donations from Michigan to the Gulf with the condition that the trucking company would give a significant discount off of their normal fees.  Sherrill managed to inspire a local private trucker to deliver the donations while charging less than half of his normal fees. “Trucken for Katrina” was born .

As the word spread about “Trucken for Katrina” Sherrill soon began to work with the First United Methodist church in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  Many homes there were flooded or totally removed by the tidal wave as it entered that community.  Many families requested to participate in the project.  A network quickly developed that today is allowing Gulf Coast families in need to be able to request specific durable goods.  Sherrill’s community share items that are in good condition and often purchase new items to send to the families.   Sherrill calls the donated goods, “Early Marriage and Pre-Attic Furniture like was all had when we first got married”.  It is allowing families to move out of their FEMA trailers and into a furnished home. Eventually they will be able to purchase their own style of furnishings.   This project has allowed families to attain some sense of normalcy.  As of August 2007, four semi trailers have delivered durable goods to 32 families.    katrina-landmark-news_0003.jpg
It has not all been smooth sailing. Sherrill has had to overcome huge challenges, from trying to get donations to fulfill the unique requests of families to dealing with tons of donations and a few that are unusable, to a truckload of carefully collected goods being left on a curbside with immanent rain without notifying the families before hand so they could come an pick them up.    .  

Now nearly 2 years later, the scope of the need has barely diminished.  

Since this whole project began, Sherrill has heard stories that she could not have ever imagined.  She tells the story of one lady named Debra who lives in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  When Katrina hit Debra was one a many people who did not leave her home. At the height of storm surge, Debra to prevent drowning, swam out the front window of her apartment clinging to a floating book shelf.  She was carried over 2 miles inland before she was finally able to grab hold of a pillar in the front of a church and be rescued.  After her ordeal during the storm, Debra lived in a tent for 3 months, then a FEMA trailer until she was offered the opportunity by her former employer to rebuild a house with the promise that she could live there at a reduced rent. After months of work to re-do the house, Debra has discovered that she is being evicted because the landlord wants to sell the re-built house at a great profit.

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Debra’s story is not unique and is only one of thousands that are similar.  Sherrill remains not only undaunted but is more inspired than ever.  Her project is connecting people and families and waking people up to the difference they are able to make.  Sherrill says, “Having identified a need in the world I have discovered with a team you can do anything. Through Landmark Education I have a great education in communication and I am able to move, touch and inspire others to go out and make a difference. This project has taken on a life of its own because it gives people an opportunity to express their unique desire to make a difference.  You get back far more than you give.”

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