By Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY
Debra Shapiro lives too far from the Gulf of Mexico to pluck tar balls from the beach or wash slimy sludge from pelicans. So the Madison, Wis., librarian decided she would fix dinner to help victims of the BP oil spill.
"Like everybody, I've been going around since April just horrified, but what can we do about it? You feel paralyzed," she says.
Then she read an e-mail from Environment America that urged supporters to hold gumbo parties to raise money for oil spill victims. At a June 16 dinner in her home, Shapiro and 20 friends raised about $300, which will go toward food vouchers to aid Gulf fishermen idled by the spill and also help fund the advocacy group's environmental lobbying.
Like Shapiro, people around the nation — corporate CEOs, comedians and kids with lemonade stands — are reaching out in many imaginative ways to aid the Gulf.
Residents in coastal communities fear the damage will cost far more than the $20 billion BP has committed for cleaning the Gulf, restoring habitats and compensating oystermen and shrimpers who earn a living off the water.
"Experience has taught us that amount won't be enough," the Baton Rouge Area Foundation wrote in a letter. "Given time, BP will exit and the government will turn its attention elsewhere, leaving much more to do."
The foundation is acting as a clearinghouse for many of the donations, dividing the money among funds covering the environment, people, animals and long-term projects. They also are administering The Colbert Nation Gulf of America Fund, created by satirist Stephen Colbert and Comedy Central.
The foundation set up the funds two weeks ago after receiving calls and checks from people who had donated after Hurricane Katrina and wanted to help again, foundation President John Davies says.
"Many, many people are interested in helping," he says, "they just don't know where to plug in."
Dishing out $13,000
As the size of the spill grew, Heather Emmert of Environment America fielded dozens of phone calls and e-mails from people looking to help. "There wasn't a lot people could do," she says.
Then the group, which opposes new offshore oil drilling, devised "Gumbo for the Gulf" to channel that energy into fundraising. Emmert created an online guide that volunteers could follow. So far, 35 gumbo parties have raised about $13,000, she says.
Dallas resident and mom Melissa Plaskoff called on children across the country to donate their summer lemonade stand profits through Lemons to Aid, an organization she founded in January with her two sons, Hudson, 4, and Parker, 2, to benefit victims of Haiti's earthquake. Now her focus has shifted to a disaster closer to home: Participants send the money to the Greater New Orleans Foundation.
The donations are tiny. Two boys in Allen, Texas, raised $25 with their lemonade and cookie stand last week. Three girls in Coronado, Calif., raised $200 with their stand over the Fourth of July weekend. But Plaskoff, who spreads the word through a Facebook site, says the message to children — and their parents — is huge.
"The situation in the Gulf is horrible, and I think if we can get kids to take some time this summer and help out, they can make a difference and learn about the power of giving," she says.
A swill inspired by spill
For the employees of Louisiana's Abita Brewing Co., there are daily reminders of the Gulf disaster.
The brewery's headquarters in Abita Springs is north of Lake Pontchartrain, across from New Orleans. The catastrophic environmental disaster weighs on everyone, Abita President David Blossman says.
"You can feel the anxiety and the stress from the uncertainty," Blossman says. "You see it on the news and newspapers. People are out of work. All the service-related companies are letting people go on top of all these fishermen and seafood brokers."
This year, when his employees came to New Orleans for a weekend of corporate bonding, it was a bite of a raw oyster, a staple of Louisiana cooking, that jarred him.
"I was eating some raw oysters, and I find out they're from Washington," Blossman says. "I'm eating a Washington State oyster in Louisiana. It was like hell done froze over."
Starting this week in New Orleans and spreading nationwide by the first week of August, Abita will sell a beer called SOS, short for Save Our Shore, to help out-of-work oystermen pay their bills for a few months and aid environmental rehabilitation.
The company will donate 75 cents per 22-ounce bottle, or $9 for each case of beer sold. They expect to sell 50,000 cases.
Blossman hopes the Save Our Shore merchandise will remind people elsewhere that the disaster's impact will be far-reaching.
"I have a bad feeling that when they cap the well, the media won't have the spotlight on the Gulf," he says. "Recovery is going to take a long time."
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