Esther Stevens’ dining table in Colorado Springs, CO, has become a makeshift operations center for getting aid to the victims of Hurricane Mitch.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” said Stevens, whose whirlwind flurry of phone calls in the days following the storm produced volunteers, medical personnel, supplies and even a plane for the devastated region.
“Everyone is desperate,” her friend said. They needed a brigade of workers, supplies, and could Stevens come up with some airplanes?
Stevens, who is studying to be a physician’s assistant, started calling people who might have contacts. As she made the calls, the web grew wider. Donations were coming in — to World Vision as well as to Stevens’ house. And an amateur pilot from Chicago was on standby to fly down, carrying extra fuel for trips to isolated villages.
“I feel for the country I was born in, where people give all that they have,” she said. “If you’re a stranded stranger and you need five dollars to take a bus to the airport, they will sacrifice their monthly wage to put you on the bus. That’s just the way people are down there.”
Once Stevens got going on the phone, help started coming from unexpected places. A call to Emma Gribble, a Colorado acquaintance, mushroomed. Soon after enlisting Gribble, Stevens started getting calls from Gribble’s home state of Kansas. One doctor told her, “Send me a list of whatever medical supplies you need. I’ll send it to any location you want.”
Stevens called her parents in North Carolina, and they put her in touch with David Frost, a friend who happened to have jungle flight training. He is accustomed to flying without the benefit of air traffic controllers and landing on airstrips the size of driveways. Frost, 51, was ready to spend two weeks shuttling food, water and other emergency items from regional cities that now act as supply depots to villages that can’t be reached by road.
“The desire (to help) was there, but it took Esther’s phone call to get us involved,” Frost said.
Stevens called Transtainer Corp. in New Orleans about shipping rates. “I happened to find a very generous man who said he didn’t care how long things went on, he’d take supplies down there and do it for free.”
She is paying for the shipping to Louisiana, and she’ll have a huge phone bill this month, but that is part of her donation.