Sara Lee officials drops everything to help hurricane victims

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2005

Felix Venezuela always keeps his word.

And Friday, as dawn was breaking over the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi town of

D’iberville, the vice president of

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Sara Lee Coffee & Tea’s Suffolk plant made a promise to the town.

&uot;I told people there that I’m going to do everything in my power to help them,&uot; said Venezuela.

&uot;And I’m going to keep that promise.&uot;

Early Thursday, Venezuela and three plant employees loaded up two vehicles with supplies and began the 18-hour, one-way drive to the small town near Biloxi to pick up an employee’s son and two friends. The boys, all from Portsmouth, had moved to the area just weeks before to begin their first year at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College on full baseball scholarships.

On Monday, as Hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast, the three boys fled Biloxi to weather the storm inland at the home of a teammate. Nonetheless, floodwaters caught up with the boys, who spent most of the week with Bubba and Pam Diaz and their family.

&uot;Before we left yesterday, Mr. Diaz pulled me aside and told me to take a good look around,&uot; Venezuela said. &uot;He said, ‘They have forgotten about us. Nobody is coming here and we need help.’&uot;

Despite public calls for relief efforts to be organized through the American Red Cross and Salvation Army,

Sara Lee is going to help that town immediately,

Venezuela said.

&uot;I’m not minimizing the destruction to all of the Gulf Coast…but don’t tell me not to go help these people in need,&uot; he said. &uot;I am not going to stand for that.

&uot;No one is going in there to help them. If cities and counties expect us to wait and let them handle it, here’s a newsflash: It ain’t going to happen.

&uot;Sara Lee is not finished down there. The rubber is fixing to hit the road again.&uot;

Sara Lee is adopting the town and will soon begin making trips down with resources to help hurricane victims begin rebuilding their lives, Venezuela said.

Maryanne Fiorella, deployment manager for Sara Lee and the mother whose son was trapped in the hurricane, is organizing the company’s collection efforts. She has three tractor-trailer drivers on standby to make the trip as soon as contributions begin coming in.

She has contacted several local schools and churches about collecting items that people need: toiletries, tents, cots, clothes, canned goods, water and the like.

Sara Lee employees have volunteered to sort and pack items, which can be brought to the company’s main gate at 1370 Progress Road, Venezuela said. The company will even go and pick up items that individuals or businesses wish to contribute, he said.

For more information, call the company’s main office at 538-8083.