State Journal-Register

Sept. 5, 2005

Gillespie native hurries clothing to victims in Biloxi

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

BILOXI, Miss. - As a veteran of more hurricanes than he cares to remember, Don Westwood, a Gillespie, Ill., native, knows that while water and food are brought in quickly after a disaster, it takes time for clothing to arrive.

So on Sunday, while many in storm ravaged Biloxi were attending the first church services held since Katrina blasted in last Monday, Westwood and his son Danny drove in from Alabama to deliver the fresh clothing they had gathered.

"We went through Ivan and Dennis," said Westwood, 55, who grew up in Gillespie and now lives three hours away from Biloxi in Atmore, Ala. "We know what it's like."

As two-dozen worshippers melted away after a service held outside New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, whose interior was destroyed by hurricane floodwaters, the Westwoods pulled up with their load of clothing.

The church is located on a peninsula in a disadvantaged area of east Biloxi in the coastal area.

"We brought clothes down here, we've gathered and washed clothes," said Westwood, 55, as his voice cracked. "I'm sorry," he apologized, as a few sobs broke through. "These people lost everything. They're going to have no clean clothes or anything. These people have a hard road ahead of them."

Westwood, who moved away from Gillespie when he joined the Navy in 1968, ended up in this hard-hit neighborhood after considering where the aid would be most needed.

"We've been looking for churches in poor districts where we know that people will appreciate it," he said. "They need clean stuff now."

He glanced down the block to a wood frame house where several men wandered around shirtless, and waterlogged possessions were piled high in the front yard.

"You know these people down here don't have homeowners insurance," said Westwood, a Vietnam veteran who left the Navy after 22 years with a disability. "They might get a grant from the government - if they know how to do it."

The Westwoods said they aren't the only ones who have taken the initiative to help out.

"There's convoys coming down," he said. "People reach out."