Americans on bases in Pacific chip in with individual tsunami relief efforts
January 6, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — While relief agencies geared up for massive humanitarian assistance for Asian communities laid waste by savage tsunamis Christmas weekend, many notable individual efforts also sprung up on U.S. bases in Japan.
At Atsugi Naval Air Facility, two young brothers teamed with friends to collect $725 in spare change for the American Red Cross, while on Okinawa an Exchange New Car Sales saleswoman began a food and clothing drive in conjunction with base chapels that covered all Marine installations on the island.
“Americans out here are very charitable, very interested in giving and caring about the needs of people here in Asia,” said Navy Chaplain Steven Moses, acting base chaplain for Marine bases in Japan.
“This is something we usually do every year when there are exercises in the Philippines,” he said. “We collected about 5,000 pounds of clothing and food last year for that, but what we’ve received already for tsunami relief is far more.”
He estimated about 7,000 pounds of clothing, food and other items already have been collected on Okinawa. On Tuesday, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ginowan delivered about 10 vanloads of goods to the Camp Foster Chapel Annex, then stayed to sort and box the mountain of clothing already being stored at the center for eventual delivery to the disaster areas.
“The outpouring is fantastic,” Moses said. “Pepsi Cola donated three pallets of bottled water and the local VFW is bringing in a few hundred buckets for water.”
Moses said he is coordinating with the III Marine Expeditionary Force to load the donations onto planes bound for the disaster zones whenever space is available.
The collection got an early start due to the efforts of Natalie De Vito, a saleswoman for Exchange New Car Sales on Camp Courtney.
“The Tuesday after the tsunami I called around to see what was being done about getting relief supplies to the victims and found nothing had really been done yet, so I got permission from my boss to use our office on Courtney as a drop-off point for donations,” De Vito said.
She coordinated her effort with the chaplain’s office on Camp Courtney.
“I knew there would be a lot of people donating money but felt that since planes from Okinawa were going to start flying out of here for disaster relief soon, we should send canned food, bottled water, clothing, whatever we could right away,” De Vito said.
“My feeling was that money would be helpful, but what were the tsunami survivors going to do until the funds could be raised and spent on what they needed?” she said. “They needed some immediate relief.”
At 11 a.m. Wednesday, she said, the Courtney Chapel phoned to say that a plane was to fly out of Okinawa that night and that any items dropped at the chapel by 1 p.m. could be on the plane.
“I made 80 copies of a flyer and passed them out at the PX and post office, emphasizing the 1 p.m. deadline,” she said. At 12:45 p.m. her husband rushed to the chapel to drop off a truckload of donated items.
“He told me the parking lot was packed, that there were a bunch of people coming in with bags of goods,” De Vito said. “The chaplain later told me they got a ton — 2,000 pounds — of items on that plane.”
The chapels since have taken over the collection effort. On Tuesday they announced they needed clean clothing, blankets, towels, plastic water buckets and pots and pans. They also are calling for “hygiene kits” consisting of toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, shampoo, soap, washcloths and baby wipes.
The collection points are at the chapels on Camps Courtney, Foster and Kinser, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
At Yokota Air Base, Japan, officials are asking community members interested in donating relief supplies to contact the Red Cross or other local support agency.
“We’ve gotten a lot of calls lately from people wondering how they can get relief items and other donations on our flights down to the region,” 1st Lt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman, said Tuesday. “It’s not that we don’t want to provide them help, we just don’t have that in place at the moment.”
For that reason, some other installations and agencies are accepting monetary donations only.
Chaplain James Cutter, 18th Wing Chaplain on Kadena Air Base, said he is directing people who inquire about donations to write a check to the chapel’s “Tithes and Offerings Fund.” Donations will be forwarded to the International Red Cross, he said.
John Valentine, station manager for the American Red Cross on Kadena Air Base, said he is directing people to go to the organization’s Web site at www.redcross.org and click on the “donate now” button.
“We’ve gotten quite a few calls,” he said. “People are really interested in helping out.”
But some people don’t have credit cards, like Sean and Seamus McCarthy, ages 12 and 16 respectively, on Atsugi.
“They were upset at what they were seeing on television and wanted to do something to help,” said their mother, Carolyn, in a telephone interview Tuesday. “So they come up with the idea of getting a couple of coffee cans and collecting for the Red Cross.”
Sean and friend Chris Miller spent two days collecting money at the base exchange and commissary and Seamus McCarthy collected funds one night at the base theater.
“I am very proud of them,” their mom said. “They asked me if they could do it and I told them to go for it. They just kept on doing it. I told them, ‘You guys are the bomb!’”
McCarthy said the two boys and an older brother have engaged in past community service work, such as neighborhood clean-up projects. “But it’s never been anything like this,” she said. “This was a biggie!”
Vince Little contributed to this report.