When Salvation Army workers arrived at their Pasadena distribution center the morning of October 2, they were startled to see all three truck bays of the facility had been jimmied open. Someone obviously had broken into the place.
"Their hearts just dropped to their feet. They thought, 'Oh, no, all our food is gone,' " says Army spokeswoman Kelly Drawdy. With Katrina fading into yesterday's news, donations of things like canned food and baby formula have dropped off precipitously, and every little bit is precious.
A quick glance showed that no food had been taken. A longer glance showed, however, that the desperadoes who had broken into the place hadn't taken anything -- they'd left stuff. About 50 large garbage bags' worth of used clothing.
"Their hearts dropped back to their feet again," Drawdy says.
Used clothing, it turns out, has become the hot potato of hurricane relief efforts. No one needs it anymore, and having it on your hands can be a pain in the ass.
Sorting through it and disposing of worthless items can take up a lot of time that could be better spent doing other things. Unfortunately, people loooove to donate used clothing.
Among the items the Salvation Army has received: what is delicately described as "worn underwear" and, somehow, a graduation cap and gown. (Because education is important, we guess.)
"With many disasters, you reach a point where you no longer need clothes, and the various agencies stop taking them," Drawdy says. "So all of a sudden places that have been collecting it have got all these clothes, no one's taking it from them, and they're stuck with it."
What to do? Call out the SWAT Donation team for a little after-hours mission. You think a couple of locked doors are going to stop them from helping out the victims of Katrina and Rita? Think again.
Drawdy, by the way, emphasizes that donations are still desperately needed. Canned stuff, paper plates, hygiene items, pet food, anything nonperishable.
But you can keep the used underwear and graduation outfits for yourself, good Samaritans.
Vacation, Had To Get Away
A lot of people who took the advice of local officials and left Houston to avoid Rita got something of a rude surprise when they returned: Their bosses were docking them for the time off.
Countless employees got the bad news from corporate, including a few from companies you'd think would be more open-minded.
Like Lutheran Social Services, an agency serving children, the poor and the elderly. If you sat in traffic for 20 hours trying to get to Austin, don't feel bad -- it was a vacation day!
("When you're a program that operates 24/7, you need people there 24/7," says agency vice president Katherine Kerr.)
Or St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital or Christus St. Joseph Hospital. "We were told to stay home Thursday and Friday without losing [personal time off]; now we're told it's coming out of PTO and we 'could have worked,' " one St. Joseph employee says.
A St. Joseph spokeswoman didn't return calls, but a St. Luke's representative says their decision was made in order to be fair to workers who stayed.
"We recognized that both those who stayed to work at the hospital and those who evacuated shared the fear of potential damage and injury [and] had loved ones they worried about," says St. Luke's Melissa Muse.
Yeah, but when you have the mayor and the county judge telling you to leave, when you have them begging you not to come back right away, should you get punished for listening to them?
"I can understand people's discontent," Muse says.
Some Lutheran employees, simply unable to turn off their giving gene, have donated vacation time so that employees who evacuated won't get docked.
We can only hope, for their kids' sake, that they had planned to use those vacation days for a family trip to the Museum of Math & Grammar.
Whip It Good
The donations to hurricane victims aren't limited to vacation days and dirty BVDs. Big-hearted folks out there also are opening up their wallets to make sure that no New Orleans bondage aficionados are suffering, at least in ways they don't enjoy.
Houstonian Travis Wilson is starting up a nonprofit organization called The Leather Fund to help out current and future disaster victims who happen to be members of what's called "the leather community."
Several BDSM organizations already have made pledges. "It's taking off big-time around the country," Wilson says.
The funds will go to essentials such as temporary shelter and health insurance, but that's not all. "If your house is being redone, it's okay to use the funds to redo your dungeon," he says.
Let no nipple go unclamped! If you don't replace your ball gag, then the hurricanes have won!
Wilson says he hopes to establish The Leather Fund as a 501(c)(3) organization by the end of October. No word on whether they'll take donations of worn underwear.
No torture that the leather folks can dream up would come close to the utter hell that Tyra Banks put one Houstonian through recently.
Cassandra Whitehead, 20, was one of the contestants on Banks's show America's Next Top Model. And as any viewer -- especially, say, a Hair Balls correspondent forced to switch back and forth between the baseball playoffs, the NHL opener and some silly modeling show -- can tell you, Whitehead got played.
When picked for the show, she was sporting long brown hair. Once filming began, she was told to cut it short and make it blond.
She reluctantly did so, but on the October 5 show she was ordered to cut it again. (David Wells was blowing up against the White Sox, so the reasons behind the demand remain obscure.) And, in what we were told was a historic moment in America's Next Top Model history, she balked. Whitehead walked off the show rather than get that further one inch taken off.
America, you say you need heroes; look no further than Cassandra Whitehead, the Rosa Parks of longhaired brunettes.
"They were completely trying to change my style," says Whitehead, a marketing student at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
But Cassandra, America -- or at least the testosterone-challenged portion of America -- saw you on TV as someone throwing a hissy fit over a haircut. Hair grows back, right? What's the big deal?
"It wasn't just the haircut -- that was just kind of the last straw," she says. "They were saying I couldn't act classy or ladylike, that I had to be 'edgy.' They were trying to change me into someone I didn't want to be."
They learned their lesson, as all tyrants do.
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Whitehead says she's received tons of support for her bold move. "I went to the Galleria the other day and it seems like every store I stopped in someone said, 'Why did they do that to your hair?' " she says.
Even now, with the trauma behind her, uncertainty reigns. Should she grow her hair back to its former length or keep it short?
"I don't think there's a consensus yet," she says, "except that I look better as a brunette."
Just like Rosa Parks.