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'Covered in Comfort'

Grassroots relief effort for Katrina victims proves a big success.

Wanting to offer needed supplies, as well as comforting words, the Schultz family of Clifton started a collection of specific items for Hurricane Katrina victims living in evacuation centers.

They dubbed it "Covered in Comfort" and, with help from the local community, gathered specific things for five types of packs for families, children and infants. They included clothing, toys, bedding, personal hygiene items, diapers, school supplies and small notes of care and encouragement.

DONATIONS WERE collected Sept. 16-18 at the Noodles & Noggins toy store in Clifton, the Clifton Farmer's Market and St. Andrew the Apostle Church near Little Rocky Run. Elizabeth and Brian Schultz and their sons Christian, Grant and Garrett manned the drop-off sites, and Elizabeth called it a rousing success.

"We had almost 200 packs, and everybody did more than was required, so we were able to send thousands of items to Baton Rouge," she said. "Some people even brought them to our house and to Noodles and Noggins after the collection was over, and we shipped it all on Sept. 23."

The Schultzes received some of everything they requested, and Elizabeth Schultz said the biggest response was for the baby comfort packs. In addition, they collected almost 2,000 diapers.

"Everybody was great," she said. "Sometimes, people would come up with two or three — or even five or six packs. I was overcome [with joy]." The comfort notes included in the packs also touched her heart.

"We peeked at some of the notes that kids wrote for the kids' packs, and my husband would stand there and read them and cry," said Schultz. "For example, one said, 'Dear 6-year-old from Katrina, this is your friend from Virginia. We hope you're OK. We hope this will help, and we hope this will make a difference.'"

She said residents here were happy to have some other way to help — something tangible they could do, besides just writing a check. And for many, she said, "It became a family project that they did together. And children knew they were helping others and that they were real people — not just people on TV."

THEY SENT ALL the Comfort Paks to St. Joseph's Cathedral in Baton Rouge, just 90 miles from New Orleans, because so many of the people who'd evacuated to Houston were now heading closer to home. Earlier, Schultz had learned that St. Joseph's is coordinating three efforts offering shelter to Katrina evacuees in Baton Rouge:

* At the Baton Rouge River Center — where almost 5,000 people are still living — more than 100 volunteers from St. Joseph's are providing assistance.

* The St. Anthony's shelter is housing 400 Vietnamese families.

* The First Baptist Church is sheltering mothers and babies who evacuated.

Once she found out about these places of refuge, said Schultz, "I knew these were the places these things had to go, so I contacted St. Joseph's. I'd already heard that St. Joseph's had gotten a request from the River Center for soap and shampoo for 500 people — and within two hours, they were able to fulfill it — so I knew they had an effective means of helping."

So off went the Comfort Paks collected here and, said Schultz, "I got e-mails back from St. Joseph's telling us about all the families we've been able to help — and help leave the shelter because of the supplies we sent. They were so appreciative."

The Schultzes were originally planning to foot the bill for shipping everything, themselves. But as things turned out, through a connection with her husband's company, Nortel PEC Solutions in Fair Lakes, someone else stepped up to help.

"We connected with Cavalier Logistics, a freight-forwarding company in Sterling," said Schultz. "And when my husband told them what we were doing, their chief executive, Tim Holdaway, told us, 'We'll take whatever you have, however much you have, to wherever you need it to go.'"

Schultz said the company's local affiliate in New Orleans was devastated by the hurricane, so "these drivers felt a kinship with the drivers there who'd lost everything." Cavalier Logistics even covered all the transfer costs, including gas, for the drive to Baton Rouge.

"They were angels," said Schultz. "We provided the boxes and packed everything for them so it was ready to go when they picked it up here."

ALL IN ALL, she said, the response of everyone involved with the Comfort Paks project was overwhelming, and she and her family thank all those who participated. "We were able to send thousands of items because of the generosity of those who donated, and Cavalier Logistics," said Schultz. "We're very indebted to Cavalier; they were phenomenal to work with."

The best part, though, was getting feedback from St. Joseph's about how much the Comfort Paks meant to everyone in Baton Rouge who received one. "St. Joseph's wrote me that the evacuee families 'have been overjoyed by the generosity of your group,'" said Schultz. "But it's all about community, and we were thrilled that we could help."