Local aid efforts expand

Like most communities throughout the nation, the towns of the Delaware shore are seeking to offer whatever help they can to those affected by Hurricane Katrina. From special fund-raising jars on the counters of local eateries to formal fundraisers, many are going to extra mile to pitch in toward the effort.

PFC Jason Bergman of the Fenwick Island Police Department is doing a little more than most, having been called up with his Delaware National Guard unit to assist with the recovery in Gulfport, Miss.

But Bergman is taking even those aid efforts one step further.

According to FIPD Chief Colette Sutherland, who has been in periodic contact with Bergman since his arrival in Mississippi, and related through Mayor Peter Frederick and office assistant Agnes DiPietrantonio, the Fenwick Island officer found the devastation to Gulfport extended beyond its civilians and into its police department.

“When he was finally able to get in touch with us, he said that not only has the population been decimated, but the law enforcement agency is also without,” DiPietrantonio relayed, passing along Bergman’s experience in the city.

Since realizing the impact on the city’s police, Bergman has been working with the Fraternal Order of Police in his home state to organize a special aid effort targeted specifically at Gulfport’s police.

“He asked us to see if we couldn’t do something for them,” DiPietrantonio said.

Now, in addition to donations of equipment such as handcuffs from area police departments, Fenwick Island and its police department are working to collect some basic items of need to send to the Gulfport police officers — with the help of any other local residents, municipalities, businesses and police departments that want to join in the effort.

A collection box has been set out at the front of the Fenwick Island town hall, awaiting much-needed donations of sunglasses, toiletries, underwear and socks (black and white) for both male and female officers in Mississippi.

The effort is also seeking monetary donations for other supplies the officers and their departments may need. And DiPietrantonio noted that anything that might not fit into the drop-box at the town hall would still be accepted by town staff and passed along to its intended beneficiaries.

No definitive target date has been set to send the donated items to Gulfport, DiPietrantonio said, noting a shipment would likely be sent with a contingent of Delaware National Guard members or other supplies for the units already in place, possibly within the next week or two. But other shipments could take place as time passes.

Meanwhile, the Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT) is making its own efforts to help towns devastated by the storm.

At a recent meeting, SCAT member towns Milford and Bridgeville each pledged $5,000 toward relief efforts and encouraged other towns to do likewise. The idea has already been informally broached at council meetings in Selbyville and Fenwick Island.

Selbyville council members voted to table consideration of a monetary donation until their next regular council meeting, in order to verify the town charter’s take on such donations.

Fenwick Island council members, at their most recent workshop-without-agenda, took warmly to the idea of providing aid, though a hefty financial donation like those from Milford and Bridgeville is likely outside their reach.

Instead, council members focused on the idea of a sister-city program, where the town could “adopt” a town of similar size that has been impacted by the hurricane and work to help furnish its needs directly, whether through donations of used office equipment or financial assistance and/or other aid for its residents. No formal plan was adopted at the meeting, where formal action by the council is prohibited.

Similarly, other area towns were encouraged at the SCAT meeting to consider adopting a sister-city in the Gulf region and target its specific needs through whatever donations might be raised.

Response to the charity auction being held at the Fat Tuna restaurant in Millville this weekend has also been effusive, with additional auction items being donated by a number of local businesses in the last week.

Crystal Layton of radio station FM-106.9, “The X,” who is joining with Fat Tuna’s Michelle Parrill to organize the auction, said she had continued to have auction items donated through mid-week and expected additional donations would continue to trickle in until the auction on Saturday.

As of Wednesday, auction items included custom-made golf clubs, rounds of golf, jewelry, artwork, clothing, a spa package, a pillow and throw, a floral arrangement, limousine services, a complete bed, private-label wine, house-cleaning services, tennis lessons, furniture, movie tickets, a couple’s will package and luggage.

Other items donated for the auction are a Shorebirds blanket, stadium piece and signed team ball, a skateboard, professional DJ services, a garage door opener with installation, Baltimore Ravens tickets, a Quails Unlimited print, gift certificates for local restaurants, a 12-foot boat and a seven-day/six-night condominium stay in Puerto Rico.

The final list of items should be available about 7 p.m. on Saturday, when the station will start up the music and its live broadcast.

Registration for the auction will open at 8 p.m., an hour before the auction itself starts. Parrill said a $5 donation for bidding “paddles” will be requested at that time. A buffet will be offered around 10 p.m.

All proceeds from the auction will go to the American Red Cross.