This is a tale of strangers brought together through chance and an external event in ways no one could foresee. It comes from a simple reality: People have more in common than they do differences--even people who would never have any reason or means to know each other.
The first story is why we came to create something out of thin air, a relief operation that even now barely has a name--an idea that might point to a new way to live.
Denis Kyne might be a familiar name to some. His biography reads that he "was trained extensively by the U.S. Army--as a battlefield medic, as a nuclear, chemical and biological weapons specialist, as a drill sergeant, and was eventually nominated to study at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1991 he was sent to Iraq as a part of Gulf War I--Operation Desert Storm, where he worked as a medic, pulling his comrades from battle and treating the wounds of an army of Americans sent to fight a war on foreign soil."
And that was where Kyne was given what could amount to a death sentence by the U.S. government, one, in a rerun of the Vietnam-era Agent Orange scandal, that government has never recompensed and is now finally beginning to acknowledge. Kyne was exposed to radiation via American forces' use of Depleted Uranium Penetrators--projectiles made of uranium left over from the refining of fuel and bomb material.
That would be enough for a story--DU has been vastly undercovered in the U.S. press. But the next chapter is Camp Casey, outside Bush's Crawford ranch, where Kyne and veterans' groups stood vigil along with other members of Cindy Sheehan's mission. The folks at Camp Casey rolled up the rug right around the time Katrina walloped the Gulf Coast. Kyne and his buds went to Covington, La., after the federal government neglected a million of its own citizens, and acted by applying direct aid to the effort, inventing a system as they went.
Now this is where we came in, three friends who met during the 2003 Great Raleigh Roommate Rebellion. But a little background: During the Republican convention, a fellow associated with our efforts, who likes to maintain a low profile, found himself in a paddy wagon heading toward Pier 57, the toxic, fouled lock-up in Manhattan where he was held without charges for 26 hours, sitting next to Kyne. Kyne eventually came to Raleigh and spoke at NCSU, which was where I met him. He is close to a mutual friend, Ana Pardo, a local community activist.
Pardo got the call last weekend, called me, and we set to work. Kyne, a medic with the ears and eyes of a trained combat triage specialist, was able to immediately make executive decisions of what was most needed. Unlike the larger charities that often display a certain unwieldiness common to large organizations, he had an advantage: the maneuverability of a tactician, a specialist. And what the people needed were the simplest things to overlook: infant formula, baby food, diapers, toiletries, sanitary items.
It started simply: Pardo painted a sign and we set it in the front yard at 202 Hillcrest Road in Raleigh's Cameron Park neighborhood.
The next step was to spam our lists (the powerplant for these sorts of things), print flyers and send out press releases. We sat back and waited like snakes. Stuff started arriving immediately--the miracle of the Internet.
Now that the stuff was piling up, I was made some sort of transportation/logistics captain. Only I didn't own even a car, much less a semi-truck.
Trucks, trucks, trucks--big ones, little ones-- I called 'em all: rentals, trucking firms, benefactors, ready to borrow, rent, heck I was considering the merits of theft. In the end all I could do was set some long lines and wait for a nibble. After a couple of days, I was calling philanthropists to buck up for a rental and fuel--until serendipity intervened.
The story goes like this: A woman, a total stranger, who lives in Raleigh spotted our item in The News & Observer at the same time she was on the telephone to her husband, who was in Houston. As she was mentioning our need for transportation/logistics, a truck bearing "Carolina Trucking Academy" trundled by her house. "Call him," her husband said. And she did.
The next part of the story is when Charlie Gray stepped into our lives. Gray is the Big Kahuna at the academy, a member of a United Methodist church in Fuquay-Varina.
"I am a Christian," he told me. "I'm not doing this for the glory, I am doing it to serve the Lord." Plus, he added, "there aren't too many businesses that own five semi-trucks."
All of a sudden we had a commitment for multiple trips--driver, truck, fuel. Boom.
And then, the next day, another twist: Suddenly we had the keys to the Raleigh Bonded Warehouse on Capital Boulevard, courtesy of developer Greg Hatem of Empire Properties.
The stuff is really starting to stack up now. A growing mountain of packages and soap and lotion and you name it. Then, out of the blue, the phone rang. A drive to Carrboro netted us a half a semi-trailer load that we are going to pick up and deliver to Covington, collected by Maria Mekeel of the Chapel Hill Children's Clinic (967-0771 for donations), a trained disaster relief medical professional. While we were there, three Latino families arrived in battered cars full of children, smiled shyly and off-loaded their trunks. Balance that against an obviously wealthy woman who arrived in her shiny SUV with a torn Anne Taylor bag with opened feminine products.
"I'm through menopause," she said, almost angrily. "I don't need these anymore." We saved the bag for a trophy.
So, in four short days, we have gone from nothing to an actual transportation system and a non-hierarchical organization that is starting to run itself, one that will be able to operate with maximum efficiency and zero cost to the client, which started simply as four people just deciding to do something. Now we're like a '40s bomber movie: political activists, Episcopalians, Quakers, Methodists, left, right, black, white, Hispanic, all thrown together by tragedy, all dedicated to the idea that certain events and human needs transcend party, religion, ethnicity and class. If we, poor and resource-starved as we are, can do this, anybody can. And that is the lesson.
We are loading up and rolling Thursday night. Come by and drop off some stuff.
To be continued.