Shortly after the force of Hurricane Katrina subsided, Dale Mathews, owner of The Backpacker in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, his wife Carroll, and his son Michael, piled into a 4x4 and drove for three hours before having to leave their vehicle and hike for another four hours to reach the beaches of Pass Christian, Mississippi. Not surprisingly, the family's 30-year old beach home was simply gone. Carroll's father's 40-year old beach home was also gone.
"We found the sleepy towns of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, and Pass Christian, all next to each other on the Gulf Coast, had literally been wiped off the map," Mathews said in an email. "Hundreds of people were just walking around â€“ no food, no shelter, no water. Nothing."
"Our loss was just property, a vacation home," added Mathews, observing that those who were wandering around had probably lost everything, including jobs.
Michael, noting that that he felt the family was blessed since it, at least, had a home to return to, jobs to go back to, inspired the family to send out a blanket of emails to manufacturers that The Backpacker had done business with in the last year and make a plea for anything that displaced families could use to get their lives back on track.
"There are over 50,000 displaced people in Baton Rouge right now, so the need is great," Mathews told SNEWSÂ®.
Initially, the store started by working with a local church which was housing 600 people and over 200 relief workers in two shelters in town.
"We worked to get them some kind of sleeping pads, t-shirts, footwear -- anything that a displaced person may need," said Mathews.
Before long, the efforts of the store and the family were paying off in spades. To date, over 10,000 items are on the way to The Backpacker, including 4,000 pairs of shoes from Birkenstock, Chaco, Rainbow Sandals, and Asolo. Over 5,000 pieces of clothing are being donated from Patagonia, Lowe Alpine, and Medalist. Over 600 sleeping pads are coming in from Cascade Designs and Pacific Outdoor.
"It seems the federal, state, and city-sponsored programs are getting help from the Red Cross, which is receiving cash donations," said Mathews. "Those programs are also getting plenty of support from other support mechanisms."
"However, it is the smaller private groups who have opened their doors and may have immediate needs for product. Our intent is to target needs of these smaller groups which may not be getting the 'big' support required," said Mathews.
SNEWSÂ® has pledged to do what it can, in addition to all the support and efforts already underway by the Outdoor Industry Association, to focus the attentions of our industry and subsequently our nation on what we can do right now to be of service locally to the thousands and thousands of displaced people who are in immediate need of clothing, shelter, sleeping bags and pads, insect repellent, sunscreen, hats, shoes, gloves, duffels, backpacks, daypacks, flashlights and headlamps, batteries, stoves, water purification and so much more. Go to www.snewsnet.com/katrina for daily updates, stories, and to find out more about support centers and staging areas for product donations.