Sara Lee’s keeps helping Katrina victims

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Three weeks ago, Felix Venezuela promised to help the flood-ravaged town of D’Iberville, Miss.

Thanks to the generosity of countless Suffolk residents and businesses, the vice president of Sara Lee Coffee & Tea’s Suffolk plant has been making good on his word.

Just hours after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, Venezuela and three company volunteers drove 18 hours to rescue an employee’s son who had been trapped in the storm’s rising floodwaters.

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John Janin, the son of Sara Lee’s deployment manager Maryanne Fiorella, and two friends, all from Portsmouth, moved to Biloxi, Miss., to begin their freshman year at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in early August. The three, all on baseball scholarships, went to D’Iberville to sit out the hurricane with a teammate’s family.

After seeing the devastation in the small community, Venezuela told residents that Sara Lee would be back to help. Venezuela returned to Virginia and asked Suffolk residents and businesses to lend a hand.

&uot;The response has been overwhelming,&uot; he said, gesturing around a warehouse stacked with items to ship to D’Iberville.

&uot;I knew a lot of good people out there would want to help. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.&uot;

People have cleaned out closets, bringing in bags of clothes for the hurricane victims. They hit grocery stores, stocking up on loads of staples – cleaning supplies, non-perishable foods, water and the like – and dropping them off at Sara Lee’s guard shack.

Businesses have been equally generous, bringing in pallets of their products to be shipped down south, Venezuela said.

As of early this week, Sara Lee will have sent four trucks with 40-foot trailers filled with supplies down to D’Iberville, Venezuela said. He anticipates sending at least two more tractor-trailers down in coming days.

Sara Lee employees, as well as groups of students from Nansemond River High School and Alliance Christian School in Portsmouth, have spent countless hours packing crates to be shipped to Mississippi.

&uot;Let’s just say we have learned the fine art of the assembly line around here,&uot; Venezuela said.

&uot;Employees have been coming in early, working a little late and spending their breaks helping pack up boxes.&uot;

Last Tuesday, while Hurricane Ophelia flirted with Hampton Roads weather forecasters, more than a dozen Alliance Christian School juniors sacrificed a day of classes to help Katrina’s victims.

&uot;It doesn’t feel like work,&uot; said Sara Teller, as she sealed up a crate of children’s clothing with packing tape. &uot;It feels good to be helping others.&uot;

As she separated food, clothing and cleaning supplies into the appropriate piles, Stephanie Thorp agreed.

&uot;This is something we can do to help,&uot; she said. &uot;We have so much and they don’t have anything at all.

&uot;It’s the least we can do.&uot;