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Counterpunching Tsunami

County-wide, people gather to help.

When the tsunami struck southeast Asia on Dec. 26, Kirk Harris, like many Americans, felt helpless.

But when President Bush, flanked by his father and Bill Clinton, urged Americans to do what they could to help, Harris was inspired.

"Within 10 minutes after I saw the news story, I called Del. Black and said, 'Let's do it,'" he said.

Harris and Del. Richard Black (R-32) co-hosted a tsunami relief fundraiser at Harris' Kirkpatrick's Irish Pub in Ashburn Village Center on Jan. 8. With proceeds from dinner and a live auction full of Redskins memorabilia — including one unopened 1988 Wheaties box featuring the Super Bowl-winning Redskins that went for $300 — the fund-raiser earned $15,000 for the Salvation Army's tsunami relief fund.

HARRIS AND BLACK are far from the only Loudoun residents moved to action by the tsunami, which has an estimated death toll of 150,000 and rising.

Churches across the county began taking up collections the weekend after the disaster struck. Church of the Holy Spirit in Ashburn collected $800 the first Sunday, according to Pastor Clancy Nixon.

"It hit all of us pretty hard," Nixon said. Holy Spirit is channeling its funds through Anglican Relief and Development, which was originally formed in September 2004 to get donations for Anglican church projects in economically challenged countries.

South Riding Episcopal is also sending donations through Anglican Relief and Development. The South Riding community has become doubly aware of tragedy in recent weeks, as it also mourns the deaths of two teenagers in an apparent suicide pact.

"Pain and suffering and tragedy are on everybody's minds," said the Rev. Phil Ashey.

The Rev. Jack Grubbs, at Potomac Falls Episcopal, sponsors a child in Indonesia with his wife and went through some days of distress before learning the child was safe.

"I kept following the stories — every one, my jaw dropped as I read it," Grubbs said.

Potomac Falls Episcopal is donating collections through Samaritan's Purse.

The cousin of a youth minister at Sterling United Methodist was on the beach in Sri Lanka when the waves arrived. Nothing was known for four days, but the news, eventually, was good.

"Miraculously, she was not seriously hurt," said the Rev. Randy Duncan. Sterling United Methodist is sending its collections to United Methodist Committee on Relief, which has a team in the area.

According to the Rev. Jeunee Cunningham, the biggest question members of the St. Gabriel's Episcopal congregation in Lansdowne are asking is, "Where is God in all this?"

That was the title of Cunningham's Jan. 2 sermon, seven days after the tsunami hit. "The deaths caused by the tsunami cannot be blamed on terrorists or dictators of any human beings at all," Cunningham said in her sermon. "That leaves only one person to blame. God."

But Cunningham urged the congregation to look for God not only in the suffering of the victims, but in "the hands of the helpers."

St. Gabriel's Episcopal is sending its collections to Episcopal Relief and Development.

HIGH SCHOOLS have also gotten into the spirit of giving. At Broad Run, the National Honor Society and Key Club are working together to exchange donations for blue ribbons at lunch. At Stone Bridge, half of the proceeds from last weekend's girls and boys basketball games went to a tsunami relief fund.

At Park View, the decision on how to contribute was handed to the students at an early morning meeting.

"We asked the kids, 'What do you think we could do?'" said assistant principal Daryl Cummings.

The final decision was to donate half the proceeds from the Jan. 25 girls basketball game as well as the proceeds from Bermuda Day, a pre-exams stress reliever on Jan. 18 filled with inter-class competitions.

A map of the affected area will be placed in Park View's front foyer as well, allowing students to mark the locations where friends and relatives in the area were at the time of the crisis.

And the Ashburn Swim Team has prepared a swim-a-lap fundraiser on Jan. 15 with hopes of raising more than $10,000 for Save the Children.

Individually, more than $17,000 has been donated to the Loudoun chapter of the American Red Cross by walk-ins or mailing, according to Tracy Winfree, director of emergency services.

On the broader level, Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York has teamed with the National Recreation and Parks Association for "Park Relief," which will raise aid relief throughout the country. Most of the funds will go directly to the affected regions of Asia, while 25 percent will be set aside to build or rebuild parks as a living memorial to victims.

Donors should be wary of unknown tsunami relief funds, however. Last week, the FBI issued an alert about online tsuniami relief scams. According to Sheriff's Office spokesman Kraig Troxell, no scams have been reported in Loudoun, but fradulentWeb sites are online.