Hurricane Katrina Relief

by Chuck and Marilyn Sutherland

Most S.E.C. members know that our hotel – Quality Inn Market Center – became a relief organization and shelter for evacuees after Hurricane Katrina hit on August 28th. We made a decision not to kick people out if they couldn’t pay and to feed them three meals a day when we realized they didn’t have money for food.

After the first week, Channel 11 described us as the “best organized relief effort in Dallas” – pretty amazing for a hotel – especially when most hotels refused to provide shelter early on without assurances of reimbursement. We could not have done this without the support of the S.E.C. and the S.E.C. Education Foundation. Thank you to the S.E.C. members who donated to the “Bajito Onda Foundation – Katrina Relief” efforts.

For the first few weeks, we did not know if we would get reimbursed but we are now able to submit for partial reimbursement for housing from the Red Cross. With the partial reimbursement, and the ongoing generous contributions by members of the S.E.C., we now project that we will not lose substantial money, despite our earlier fears.

Here’s an example of the types of services we provided:

  • Provided free temporary housing at our hotel for nearly 1000 Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuees.
  • Served three meals a day at no cost to as many as 500 people at a time for nearly 6 weeks. We had churches and restaurants help with food preparation and serving meals for most lunch and dinner meals.
  • Hosted a job fair where nearly 100 people got jobs (some permanent).
  • Gave gas cards and cash to help people travel cross country to move in with their relatives outside the Dallas area.
  • Placed over 500 people in apartments, in partnership with non-profits and churches. Most families received 1-3 months free rent and we provided them with a $500 move-in package including household goods and some furniture.
  • Set up a 10,000 square foot warehouse on our property (our “Katrina Store”) where we collected items donated by the community and provided clothes, shoes, suitcases, toys, infant equipment, diapers, and toiletries, as much as they wanted. We coordinated hundreds of volunteers and thousands of volunteer hours – sorting clothes by size, matching shoes and helping the Katrina guests find what they need.
  • Provided a computer center with 6 computers (5 were donated by a church) for evacuees to use. Most days, we also had volunteers available to help them navigate the web as they applied for FEMA and Red Cross benefits, searched for family and hunted for jobs.
  • Registered nearly 200 children in school and helped arrange day care for many others.
  • Provided transportation for our guests to church, shopping, job interviews, hospital and doctors, to see apartments … you name it, we took them there.
  • Arranged for free medical treatment for families at nearby hospitals, and in our meeting rooms where several local doctors volunteered to see patients for free. We also arranged for counseling services for evacuees to help them deal with the shock of loss (family, home, neighborhoods, belongings, jobs)

A New Orleans grandmother told us “I used to love to shop and put things away for a rainy day! Then the rain came – and I watched everything float away.” Being with these people has made us appreciate what we have so much and puts the daily demands of life in perspective.

We faced many challenges running a shelter and full-time relief effort for the last 6 weeks while continuing to operate as a hotel. Several guests pretended to be from New Orleans but were not, which we discovered after the government refused to reimburse us for their stay. While 95% of the evacuees were extraordinary people, grateful for everything we provided, we also had to deal with the 5% who were criminals and thugs, inflicting disproportionate damage and theft on the hotel (including nearly $10,000 in stolen linens). We also had to deal with a great deal of damage requiring repair from the wear and tear of a thousand stressed people living in a hotel room with their family for a month. We comforted to our guests as they began to deal with all the losses in their life. It’s been an amazing experience.

While we placed many of the original evacuees in apartments, there are many more in Dallas who remain displaced given FEMA’s inability to deal with the ongoing homelessness caused by the hurricanes. We are continuing to provide housing for these evacuees who are still waiting for government support to come through.

Thank you for the contributions you have made, pledged or will make in the future. The evacuees who have received, and will receive, our hotel’s services and support will have a much easier transition as they resettle to Dallas (or move back home) thanks to you. You have made a real difference and touched many lives. We really couldn’t have done it without you!

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