Vineyarders Join Nation in Aiding Hurricane Relief

By IAN FEIN

Vineyard Haven neighbors Laura Kimball and Ashley Brede planned to spend a good part of their Labor Day weekend selling lemonade outside their Skiff avenue homes. But when news spread of the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast region, the pair found a new focus for their end-of-summer stand.

"There are so many people down there now that don't have homes - I thought it was really sad," Miss Brede, 11, said yesterday. "We wanted to do something for them."

Through their lemonade sales, Miss Kimball, 16, a sophomore at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, and Miss Brede, who returns today to her other home in Wellesley, raised more than $450 for the American Red Cross disaster fund. One patron gave the two girls a $100 bill for a single cup.

It was one of many gestures made across the Island this weekend, as Vineyard residents and visitors opened their homes, hearts and pocket books to pitch in for relief efforts in the aftermath of the hurricane that has left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

On the Island, grass-roots fundraisers sprouted up on short notice, Red Cross volunteers outside of grocery stores collected more than $15,000 in donations and two dozen residents attended an all-day session Saturday to train for deployment to the Gulf Coast.

In fact so many participants arrived for the training session hosted by the Vineyard chapter of the American Red Cross that some had to be turned away. Chapter director Deborah Medders said yesterday that another three dozen people have enlisted for the additional session scheduled for Sept. 24.

Former Edgartown selectman Dana Anderson, who attended the training Saturday, said the session offered a basic foundation of what the Red Cross does and does not do in its shelter operations. Ms. Anderson said she will take a CPR and first aid course this weekend, and hopes to be deployed soon to wherever she is needed most.

Some volunteers may be used on the Cape at Camp Edwards, where 2,500 evacuees are expected to arrive by tomorrow.

Ms. Anderson said she was impressed by the other participants at the training session on Saturday, but not surprised by the turnout.

"I have always found this to be a very generous and humanistically conscious Island," Ms. Anderson said. "Which is a big part of why I'm here."

Oak Bluffs residents Kurt and Ida Gear expressed similar feelings about the Vineyard community after almost 90 people showed up for an impromptu fund-raising barbecue organized by their daughter, Karen, at their Thompson avenue home on Sunday night. The event - which featured hot dogs, beans and cocktails - raised $6,800 for the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

"Where else can you plan something and the next day have 88 people show up on just one day's notice?" Mrs. Gear asked. "We had a friend who said three people might show up and we'd be eating hot dogs for months. But people who came said they had been wanting to do something, and this gave them the opportunity."

The Vineyard high school football and cheerleading teams have also joined the fund-raising efforts, deciding to donate 10 per cent of proceeds from their Purple Pride cards. The annual cards sell for $10 and offer discounts to 15 Island businesses.

Head coach Donald Herman said yesterday that the team already sold out its first 2,000 cards, and ordered an additional 1,000 this weekend. He hopes the team will contribute about $3,000 to the hurricane relief fund. The new cards, once they arrive, will be available at Packer Fuel, the high school or home football games, which begin Sept. 16.

A jazz concert at the Exchange in Oak Bluffs Saturday turned into a relief fundraiser as well, when musician Esperanza Spalding and event organizer Rodney Ward decided to donate all of their proceeds to the Red Cross. A similar concert is scheduled this coming Saturday at 8 p.m. Mr. Ward is also organizing a large concert fundraiser at the Tabernacle on Saturday afternoon.

Sculptor Augusto Ranfagni announced this week that all proceeds from his show at the Firehouse Gallery through Sept. 10 will go to charities for Hurricane Katrina victims, and the Bank of Martha's Vineyard - a division of Sovereign Bank - issued a statement that it will accept cash donations to a special account for the Red Cross at any of its five Island branches. Sovereign Bank will match up to $50,000 in donations.

Other Island fundraisers are also in the works.

Kathy Lola Domitrovich of Lola's restaurant in Oak Bluffs met with Red Cross representatives last night to organize a Mardi Gras party later this week in honor of New Orleans. Mrs. Domitrovich said she envisions charging a high ticket price at the entrance, with all money going to the relief effort.

Former Oak Bluffs resident Rachael Convery, 20, who returned to the Island Sunday night after spending all of last week stranded in the second floor of a New Orleans home with three friends (two of them also from the Vineyard), spoke yesterday about her experiences and the importance of the Red Cross volunteers and these fund-raising efforts across the country.

Ms. Convery, who lived in New Orleans for the last year, said that she and some Island friends are also looking into organizing a reggae festival on the Island to raise funds.

"I had nothing when I left New Orleans. My whole life was behind - all my stuff is up there. Now all I have are a couple changes of clothes and a stuffed kitty that my brother gave me," she said. "But I'm pretty lucky to have somewhere to come home. There are so many people from New Orleans who are separated from home and from family members. They have nowhere to go.

"If people can give - whatever they can - it's going to help," she said. "Because it's so terrifying having nothing."