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Manhattan Beach Honors 'Aid Cleveland, Texas' Project Participants

Sep 20, 2017 08:44AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

The crew that drove to Cleveland, Texas, led by Mira Costa Principal Ben Dale, speaks before the Manhattan Beach City Council

It was a feat that was nothing short of phenomenal: Within a matter of days after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and nearby areas, the town of Manhattan Beach mobilized to provide a comprehensive hurricane relief effort for the city of Cleveland, Texas.

Led by Mira Costa High School Principal Ben Dale, a convoy of seven fully stocked trucks drove supplies from Manhattan Beach to Cleveland, where they were welcomed by a grateful community on September 8.

On Tuesday, September 19, the Manhattan Beach City Council and the Manhattan Beach Unified School District held a special joint meeting to debrief on the project and to recognize and honor project leaders and those who made the journey to Texas.

"Our community really came together to help another community in a time of need - people to people," said Manhattan Beach Mayor David Lesser. "More than 1,400 members of this community participated."

At the meeting, key players in the effort were given an opportunity to speak and describe their experiences. The team of drivers who participated in the convoy to Texas - including project leader Dale, who grew up in Cleveland, Texas - attended the meeting wearing bright red "Cleveland Strong" t-shirts.

A Community Rallies
MBUSD Board President Jennifer Cochran described how the project started with an idea from Dale, after which the effort came together "within 24 hours." Volunteers from the individual schools and their PTAs, from the MBX Foundation, and from corporate and community organizations all stepped up to provide organizational leadership and assistance, she said.

The total of 1,400 volunteers doesn't even reflect all of the individuals who brought along other family members, said Cochran. "Anybody who could walk was there helping," she added.

The ACT effort also raised more than $76,000, with donations continuing to pour in from individuals. More than 300 total donations were received, with 14 of those donors contributing $1,000 or more.

But behind those numbers there are countless "phenomenal" stories, said Cochran: "One little boy walked in and turned over a handful of coins - his life savings."

The donations were rounded up at City Hall and at all of the MBUSD schools, and then were brought over to Mira Costa, where teams of volunteers loaded up all seven U-Haul trucks. All told, the  trucks carried:
  • 651 cleaning kits
  • 520 blanket/towel/pillow kits
  • 1,586 hygiene kits
  • 610 backpacks
  • 21 boxes of school supplies
  • 166 disaster kits
  • 111 bags of dog food
  • 19 bags of cat food
  • 36 pet supply kits
  • 41 kennels; 16 of which were packed with food
  • 74 boxes of girls' clothing kits
  • 85 boxes of boys' clothing kits
  • 3,000 pairs of shoes
  • 10,000 pairs of socks
Once the trucks were fully loaded, they set out for a 30-hour journey to Texas that began on the night of Wednesday, September 6 and ended early in the morning of Friday, September 8.

The team of 16 who made the journey to Texas included Dave Caskey, Tom Caskey, Alan Nitzburg, Cameron Bowles, Jeff Mullikin, Jesse Anderegg, Richard Montgomery, Francey Marizcola, Pat Caskey, Victor Andrade, Austin Houshka, Tom Hansen, Jim Ashworth, Joel Karahadian, CJ Dale, and Ben Dale.

Distributing the Donations
The donations were scheduled to be distributed starting at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 9 - and by the time 9:00 rolled around, there were 500 cars in line. All told, 1,200 cars came through, representing more than 1,500 families, said Dale.

One woman drove up alone in a large pickup truck and loaded up a large number of supplies. "I have the only working truck on my street - I'm filling orders for everyone on my street," she told Dale.

Dale added that one of the most poignant moments for him was the second to last car in the line, a little blue car with a couple and a baby inside. The man was wearing only jeans and no shirt; the woman had on a nightgown, and the baby was naked. "I couldn't believe that this was their living condition," said Dale. "All I could think to say was, 'What do you need?'"

Dale and the team gave them baby supplies and clothing as well as mens' and womens' clothing - and also handed them four BBQ sandwiches that had been donated to the volunteers. "I brought it to them and they burst into tears," he said. "We served 1,200 cars and 1,500-plus families, but that little blue car... that's why we did it. We were there for them when they needed something."

Driver Jesse Andrade described how the shoes donated by Skechers were a "huge hit." "Many of these kids had never even had new shoes before," he added. "And when the hurricane hit, their shoes were washed away - they were going to school without shoes."

At one point one of their Texas contacts asked what was the largest size shoe, because one young man in middle school wore a size 15 or 16 - and he was likely to be the only child without any shoes after all of the donations were distributed. When the team realized they didn't have shoes in that size, said Andrade, they got the go-ahead to go to a local sporting goods store, where they bought a size 15 pair and a size 16 pair. "He had never had a pair of shoes that fit before," added Andrade.
Cameron Bowles noted that the shoes seemed to be particularly meaningful to people who had suffered so much loss. "One little boy who was barefoot saw the shoes and said, 'Are these mine? Can I take them home?'" he said. "It wasn't just a case of losing one thing or another thing - These people lost everything."

Francey Marizcola concurred. "I'll never forget the desperation in the eyes of the people we came in contact with. To hear someone say, 'Do you have shoes? My husband has no shoes' - that was very powerful to me."

After seeing just how great the need was, Marizcola said that she never had second thoughts about what the team was doing. "Nobody can ever tell me that a community effort like this one is inappropriate or ineffective," she said.

Councilmember Richard Montgomery - a Houston native - added, "Don't let people tell you you can't make a difference."

Dale told the city council that there was approximately $30,000 remaining in the fund. Working closely with Cleveland community leaders, the team had agreed to use the funds to help one particularly hard-hit and under-served neighborhood rebuild. Many of the homes in that neighborhood had been in families for generations, he said.

Dale added that the ACT Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund at MBX Foundation was still accepting donations, and that the team would continue to get the word out about the latest news on hurricane recovery efforts in Cleveland.

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