Truckin for Katrina

Truckin for Katrina: Michigan Families Adopting Gulf Coast Families Affected by Hurricane Katrina

Not long after Hurricane Katrina hit, Sherrill Sundberg learned that one of her neighbors had 4 separate family members who each lost their homes. She was participating in the Landmark Team Management and Leadership Program. Utilizing the concepts learned from her Self Expression and Leadership Program Project she immediately knew what she was going to do for her next project which included enrolling and inspiring a team to fulfill on the “Rebirth of New Orleans” Project she created.

Over 100,000 people literally lost everything they had in Katrina and now nearly two years later, the scope of the need has barely diminished. Like most people Sherrill wanted to do whatever she could to contribute to the relief effort. Her initial goal in her community project was to get donations for the households for the 4 relatives of her neighbor.

While attending her next Landmark Education weekend of the Team Management and Leadership Program she initially created “Christmas in New Orleans”. This was to invite 4 leaders to provide Christmas for the 4 original families by determining: 3 gifts each person wanted, what they would like to wear and what they would like to have for a Christmas dinner. She was challanged by another participant to expand the scope of her project. She accepted and soon the project exploded such that 25 families received “ Christmas in New Orleans”. In total, 25 leaders and 250 families had the experience of generous sharing by sending the desired Christmas gifts by December 16, 2005 to 25 families devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

As it turned out, this was just the beginning of an odyssey of contribution for Sherrill. After that first Christmas, Sherrill knew that the project had to continue in some way, as they had not even scratched the surface of what was needed.

As an active member of her local Methodist Congregation she naturally had invited other church members to participate in the project. Sherrill met a lady who so inspired by the purpose of the project, cashed in the equity of a life insurance policy in order pay for trucks that would transport donations from Michigan to the Gulf with the condition that the trucking companied would give a significant discount off of their normal fees. Sherill managed to enroll a local private trucker who has taken on the project while charging less than half his normal fees. “Truckin for Katrina” was born.

As the word spread about “Truckin for Katrina” Sherrill soon began to work with the First United Methodist church in the Pascagoula, Mississippi. Many homes there were flooded or totally removed by the tidal wave as it entered that community. Many families requested to participate in the project. A network quickly developed that today is allowing Gulf Coast families in need to be able to request specific durable goods. Sherrill’s community share items that are in good condition and often purchase new items to send to the families. Sherrill calls the donated goods, “Early Marriage and Pre-attic Furniture like we all had when we first got married”. It is allowing families to move out of their FEMA trailer and into a furnished home. Eventually they will be able to purchase their own style of furnishings. This project has allowed families to attain some sense of normalcy. As of August 2007 four semi trailers have delivered durable goods to 32 families

It has not all been smooth sailing. Sherrill has had to overcome huge challenges, from trying to get donations to fulfill the unique requests of families to dealing with tons of donations and a few that were unusable and nothing more than junk, to a truckload of carefully collected goods being left on a curbside with imminent rain without notifying the families beforehand of the delivery date and time to come and pick them up.

Now nearly 2 years later, the scope of the need has barely diminished.

Since this whole project began, Sherrill has heard stories that she could not have ever imagined. She tells the story of one lady named Debra who lives in Pascagoula, Mississippi. When Katrina hit, Deborah was one of many people who did not leave her home. At the height of the storm surge, Deborah swam out the front window of her rented house after breaking a window to prevent drowning. She was carried over 2 miles inland before she was finally able to grab hold of a pillar in the front of a church and be rescued. After her ordeal during the storm, Debra lived in a tent for 3 months. Finally she resided in a FEMA trailer. Her former employer offered the opportunity for her to rebuild a house with the promise that she could live there at a reduced rent. After months of work to re-built the house, which was then furnished by Sherrill’s project, Deborah has discovered that she is being evicted because the landlord is able to get much higher rent or sell the newly rebuilt house at a great profit.
Deborah’s story is not unique and is only one of thousands that are similar. Sherrill remains not only undaunted but is more inspired than ever. Her project is connecting people and families and waking people up to the difference they are able to make.

Sherrill says, “Having identified a need in the world I have discovered with a team you can do anything. Through Landmark Education I have had world class training in communication such that I am able to touch, move and inspire people to participate in what ever I am up to. This project has taken on a life of its own because it gives people an opportunity to express their unique desire to make a difference. You get back far more than you give.”