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Heating Up the Griddle for Relief

Vienna residents help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

When the going gets tough, the tough get cooking. For Vienna resident Deborah Brehony, seeing the images of destruction and loss caused by Hurricane Katrina on television put her into action.

"Watching the news was so disturbing, I felt I had to do something," said Brehony. "It helped me feel better not to be so powerless."

Once she heard the news of the hurricane’s impact in Louisiana, Mississippi and beyond, Brehony began to take action. Along with neighbors, friends and coworkers such as Whitney Welsh, Daphne Hendricks and Lucas Edwards, Brehony began to organize a pancake breakfast to raise money for the American Red Cross.

The idea came from Hendricks, who organized a pancake breakfast for victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia last winter. Through donations at the breakfast, Hendricks helped raise $2,000. Freddie Mac matched that amount, and the success of the endeavor prompted Brehony to team up with Hendricks and do the same thing.

Before long, Welsh joined the effort. A Louisiana native who moved to Northern Virginia in mid-June with her boyfriend and her best friend, Welsh wanted a way to help the people back home.

"How could you not want to help?" said Welsh, who grew up in New Orleans. Her mother had been evacuated to Beaumont, Texas for the hurricane, said Welsh, but her father is at his home, fishing for redfish off his roof. Welsh is worried about her family and friends, who are scattered all over the Southeast, she said, and it is difficult to get in contact with her father and others since cell phones don’t work.

"It’s hard because I’m so far away from all my family and I can’t get through to them," said Welsh. "That city is responsible for who I am today, and now it’s gone."

WELSH RECENTLY graduated from the University of New Orleans, which is now "20 feet under water," she said.

"My transcripts don’t exist," said Welsh. UNO has many international students who now have to go to schools far away, said Welsh, and for that reason she has been hosting friends from college and from home who have been displaced by the hurricane. She has tacked a sign onto her door that says, "Katrina Refugee Camp."

Welsh has other long-term ideas for hurricane relief, too, she said, such as hosting a "Taste of New Orleans" black-tie event in cooperation with local restaurants. She would also like to start a program where people could adopt a displaced family, sending necessities for now and gift items on holidays.

But at this moment, said Welsh, she will start her relief efforts by helping plan the event, and by cooking red beans and rice for the breakfast.

Working to organize a relief effort such as this one helps in dealing with news of the hurricane and its aftermath, said Welsh. "This completely makes me happy," she said.

Brehony agreed. "I keep busy when things hurt," she said.

A box sits on the Brehony’s front porch for people to drop off donation checks. According to Brehony, First Horizon Bank will match the first $1,000 raised, and she hopes that other local businesses will match donations as well.

"We’re going to collect as much money as we can," she said.

"It’s some way of helping," said Hendricks. "Churches do it. ‘Why not?’, I said. It is a family event."

Welsh said she does not recognize the city she grew up in from the pictures shown in the news. "I see them and I think, ‘That doesn’t look anything like when I left,’" she said.

The pancake breakfast is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., at the Brehony’s home on 515 Park St. S.E. People wishing to make a donation should make checks out to "The American Red Cross" and mark "Hurricane Katrina Relief" in the memo line, said Brehony.