Guest Column: Bryden Ford, Lula's, Rockford Speedway team up to help Katrina victims

Three area businesses (Lula’s Vintage Boutique, Bryden Ford in Durand and the Rockford Speedway) teamed up this past week to fill a race car trailer of donated items to send to Monroe, La., currently home to 20,000-plus Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

There have been many images in the media about the devastation and distress brought on by Hurricane Katrina. Somehow, it doesn’t really affect you or sink in—until you know of someone who has been right in the thick of it.

I have a friend who lives in Monroe, La. My friend Cindy made contact to let me know she was OK and had not been hit in the hurricane’s path, but that she and the rest of her town were feeling the aftereffects of those who had been left homeless in Katrina’s wake.

Cindy said her town was now like a military zone, with armed guards walking the area and curfews set at dark. The community’s activities had come to a standstill to help those who had sought refuge in the northern Louisiana town.

Cindy had mentioned to me funds were not reaching the social service organizations in her town quickly enough to help with the onslaught of people being bused in or migrating to the area from the hurricane’s deadly path. “We need stuff,” she said.

That set the ball in motion for me and my business partner, Lauretta Rundgren.

The plea for donations went out first via e-mail, asking for assistance in locating a truck to fill to send to the distraught Louisiana area. Many from the e-mail list responded with donations of clothing, food, baby items, toys, etc.

And so it began.

Our store started to fill, and soon the back room was overflowing with donated items. So much so that the path to the restroom was gone.

Scott Bryden of Bryden Ford in Durand had sent an e-mail asking for pledges for the American Red Cross drive here in Rockford, and had also mentioned his general manager, Jeff Price, wanted to help out by filling the Bryden Ford Racing team race trailer with donated items and driving it down to the affected area. But they were told American Red Cross had no way of distributing the collected items once they arrived.

I have to say, with all their funny commercials and can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head slogan (“We’re closer than you think”), you will know them now as being big-hearted, generous and kind. Not too many business owners would give up an employee and their race trailer to help two women pull together donations from a very generous and thoughtful community in the Rock River area.

The next step would be where to park the trailer so it could be easily reached and accessible. Calls were made to big box stores and some local chains. We weren’t a charity organization or nonprofit 501(c)3, just a group of people hoping to help out in some way. There was no place at the inn for our trailer. But the person who heeded our call was Jodi Deery, from the Rockford Speedway.

Deery said, “You can leave the trailer there as long as it takes.” Rockford Speedway generously donated the use of their lot at the corner of Forest Hills Road and Route 173 to drop the trailer and seek donations from the community. (Thank goodness for good, old-fashioned, genuine kindness—it DOES still exist.) Deery even loaned us one of her signs when she saw the banner we received in-kind from Coca-Cola, which had been hit hard by the thunderstorms the evening before. The lettering had partly washed away.

Once the word hit the media throughout Rockford and the surrounding areas, the trailer started to fill…and fill…and fill. One evening into the night until 8:30 p.m., we unloaded/loaded and sorted in the dark.

Bryden Ford in Durand even set up their own smaller trailer to accommodate donations for those living in the surrounding Durand communities who wanted to make contributions.

It took us two-and-a-half days to fill this trailer, and two days to get to the destination in Monroe, La., where other volunteers were waiting to help unload into a warehouse.

I was up early one morning at 3 a.m. wondering to myself: “What more could I do? What more could I say to motivate people to donate and bring items to help those hit by the floods who lost everything?” I didn’t need to say a word, because like the rains that poured through and hit New Orleans, when I awoke the next day, the donations came in droves, and mini vans, and in trucks, and in cars—sometimes three to four in line waiting to be unloaded—all day long.

For a short while, our lives and our business were put on hold. Nothing else mattered except getting this trailer filled and getting it to my friend in Monroe, La. I knew once the truck got there, she would do the rest, and make sure all was taken care of on her end and that people would be helped.

People were asking us what group we were with and why we were doing this. I really can’t explain it, other than my friend needed my help to help those people. And I know that if I ever was in that position, where I had lost everything, I would want someone to stop for a moment and think about me.

When going through and sorting items to be boxed, we had come across a few boxes that children had evidently helped to pack. There were notes of encouragement to the hurricane victims telling them that “everything will be OK…God Bless You” and “I’m sorry to hear about your house, I hope you can use this stuff.”

It’s at that point you realize why you made the effort and why you continue to help in any way you can.

Thank you, Scotty Bryden, Jeff Price and the whole Bryden Ford Family in Durand. Thank you, Mrs. Deery and all your wonderful staff at the Rockford Speedway. Thank you, Rockford media that helped get the word out. And finally, thank you, Rockford and the surrounding communities. Just when we think the world has forgotten about compassion, we are proven wrong.

Luan Dean and Lauretta Rundgren (“The Lula’s”) are co-owners of Lula’s Vintage Boutique in the downtown River District.

From the Sept. 21-27, 2005, issue

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