Anguish and determination fuel relief effort at Atsugi
NAVAL AIR FACLITY ATSUGI, Japan — Keiko Roper dutifully labeled relief supplies in Japanese on Monday, hoping that maybe some of those blankets and bottles of water would reach the people driven from her hometown.
Roper, who is married to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jack Roper, is from Ishinomaki, a small town about 35 miles from Sendai.
She heard from her sister Sunday, and her niece. She is waiting to hear from many others.
“There is no water, no rice, no farms left,” Roper said. “I saw people from my town on television at a shelter. Each person has only two bowls of rice a day, and one small bottle of water.”
In the meantime, Roper is doing all that she can, and she is not alone at this base in western Kanagawa prefecture, about 30 miles from Tokyo.
Hundreds of volunteers at Atsugi have donated thousands of pounds of food, clothing and supplies. They had collected 10 pallets of supplies early Monday, and had collected several more on Friday and Saturday. Each pallet fits hundreds of pounds of needed goods, such as coats, diapers, canned goods and water.
It all started with Andrew Hall, 11, watching the news Friday with his mother, Gladys. He asked what they could do to help.
Gladys Hall then told a few of her Facebook friends to meet up. They asked Command Master Chief Benora Simmons for some organizational muscle. They set up donation points at the commissary and exchange, and by late Friday, they had seven pallets worth of donations.
“You just ask the spouses, and they’ll get it done,” Simmons said.
With donations in hand, people from every part of the Navy, civilian and active duty, came by to lend a hand each day, said Alex Tyson, a regular volunteer.
Spouses sorted clothes, while sailors hauled rice sacks and other heavy goods to the pallets, where they are ready to be loaded aboard helicopters headed toward the devastation in the north.
“If they were calling for volunteers up north, I’d be on the first bus possible,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Taft. “They’re in a time of need and we need to help them.”
Most of the people volunteering said they didn’t know anybody prior to Friday with relatives who had been affected. They just didn’t want to idle along while so many suffered.
“It’s made me really happy that so many people are helping with donations,” Roper said. “Whatever the people had in my town is completely gone. ... I am really lucky that I am here.”