North helps south as CNN segment spurs Katrina aid to Greenville

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Like most Americans, Canton, N.Y. Mayor Robert Wells watched the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath and wanted to help those who had lost everything.

After all, his own town went through a devastating ice storm in 1998 that left most roads impassable and knocked out power in the area for several weeks, so he and his townspeople knew a little of what people on the Gulf Coast were going through.

&#8221It was scary,“ said Wells of the ice storm. &#8221It's not as bad as being drowned, but I think the north country very much understands what it's like to be in a life or death situation.“

So when Wells saw a CNN story on how Greenville had taken in some 500 Katrina evacuees and was trying to provide them with the basic necessities of life so they could start over, Wells saw an opportunity for his town to make a noticeable difference on a town not much unlike his own.

&#8221What came up in our discussions was why don't we pinpoint a community that is doing something for those people,“ said Wells, referring to the evacuees. &#8221I remembered seeing the CNN piece, so I went to Google and printed out some information (on Greenville).“

Wells then formed an ad hoc committee made up of key people in Canton, pop. 6,100, who met to figure out what to do to help Greenville take care of the many homeless people who found their way to the &#8221City of Smiles.“

&#8221The real problem is that everybody thinks they need to give to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, but (Greenville) is trying to make a difference and they can make the kind of decisions needed to give these people immediate help,“ Wells said.

Mike Nobel, Senior Vice President and COO of North Country Savings Bank in Canton, said his bank acted quickly by &#8221writing a check for $25,000 to the Red Cross,“ but when the idea was floated to pinpoint help to one community, he thought it was a good idea.

&#8221We just felt like we could maybe make a greater impact on a town that was comparable to us in size,“ Nobel said. &#8221One of the reasons we live in small towns is we like the closeness and we like to know we can make a difference in people's lives.“

He also said he can't fathom what people in New Orleans are going through.

&#8221It's hard to imagine how somebody could cope with the destruction and all of the loss of family's belongings and history,“ he said.

Once people like Wells, Nobel and the other committee members got around a table, things moved pretty fast. Dubbed the Canton-Greenville Katrina Project, the committee rallied help from citizens, businesses and civic groups.

&#8221So far we've gotten $750 from Rotary, $1,000 from the VFW and I'm waiting to hear from our universities now,“ Wells said. &#8221I spoke to Susan Sorrells at Butler County Department of Human Resources and she sent me a list of people's needs and we're working to satisfy those needs.“

Butler County's DHR is putting all Katrina contributions to good use, including those from Canton, which were already spent before they got here.

&#8221We are using that money to help the evacuees with getting their cars fixed, medicines, doctors visits, eye glasses, food, gas and helping them relocate to homes here,“ said Butler County DHR Director Freida Stevens. &#8221We're still having bills come in from businesses where we sent vouchers with evacuees so they could buy necessities, so if anything is left after those businesses are paid then the money will be used to send necessities to the affected areas.“

Sorrells, who did a lot of the legwork communicating with Canton on evacuee's needs, said her contact with the folks there has been inspiring.

&#8221They seem to have that small town personality and seem to have really been touched not only by us reaching out to the people who were here, but that we were trying to send supplies to people in the affected areas,“ she said. &#8221Despite the fact they were a long way from the tragedy they wanted to help and mobilized their town to respond.“