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Utah stepping up with aid

Utahns have opened both their hearts and their pocketbooks to victims of Hurricane Katrina, donating thousands of man-hours and million of dollars since the storm devastated the Gulf Coast last week.

A hotline set up specifically for hurricane relief has been shut down, the state having been overwhelmed with offers for assistance. Camp Williams, home base for nearly 600 displaced evacuees, has used 475 volunteers since Saturday to do everything from prepare and serve 6,700 meals to run an on-site child-care center and lifeguard at the military base's pool.

Another 1,700 volunteers are trained and prepared to step in as needed, according to state officials running Utah's relief effort.

The outpouring of support has prompted officials to ask residents to channel their good will into monetary donations. Already, Utahns locally have donated nearly $2 million to the Greater Salt Lake Chapter of the American Red Cross and the United Way of Salt Lake.

It should come as no surprise that Utahns have given so much, said Marty Money, United Way director of marketing and communications.

"Utahns are so generous," she said. "We saw them during the 9/11 crisis come out and be very, very generous at that time. And this is similar, where we've seen an outpouring of generosity."

Over the weekend, the United Way, which is the governor's designated agency overseeing local contributions, received at least 1,000 calls from Utahns wanting to help, Money said.

"What we're telling them is thank you, thank you so much for the generous contributions that have been made," she said. "However, the greatest need still remains monetary contributions, because those can be used to directly affect the greatest need."

But sometimes writing a check just isn't enough. Of the 7,300 people who flooded the state's hotline in the past week, only about 2 percent of callers asked about giving money. The rest wanted to do something, anything, to feel like they're helping on the front lines.

Draper resident Ronna Guidera has already donated money, but she wanted to do more. On Wednesday, she traveled to Camp Williams with her dog Bella, a 7-month-old Pomeranian/Yorkshire terrier mix, and offered trips off the military base.

"I just wanted to do something, do my part," Guidera said. "I just wanted to come down and take them to lunch. I thought maybe Bella could put a smile on their face."

Others, like Salt Lake attorney Steve Gordon, saw a simple idea snowball into something much bigger. A University of Utah alumnus who enjoys attending football games with his daughter, Gordon decided he'd like to take an evacuee or two and their children to this Saturday's game against Utah State University.

"These people don't have anything left, and they have no idea what the future holds. I can't change that, but maybe we can give them some happiness for a few hours," he said.

By Wednesday afternoon, Gordon had been in contact with both the governor's office and the U.'s athletic department, which was already working on a similar plan, lining up tickets for all evacuees and trying to find transportation to and from the game.

"It just kind of mushroomed," he said. "And I can't say it was my idea. It was my idea to take a father and his son to a football game."

Also at this weekend's game, student volunteers from the U. and other colleges and universities from around the state are to raise money for the American Red Cross. A family fun day prior to kickoff and a post-game party will have food, raffles, a carnival, live bands and an auction.

Other Utah organizations are also joining together to aid in relief efforts. A coalition of businesses, churches and communities called Home Away From Home has announced a Saturday benefit gumbo dinner at the Skaggs Catholic Center in Draper. The coalition is also accepting cash and food donations and assures that all contributions will be used in Utah to benefit the evacuees staying at Camp Williams. More information is available online at www.utahrelief.org, as well as at deseretnews.com.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com