U group heads south to help survivors

North Serves South, led by a graduate student, has been helping in southern Mississippi.

Emma Carew

As the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina hit during Labor Day weekend, mechanical engineering graduate student Dwijendra Guru felt his efforts were needed.

A member of the Association for India’s Development and the coordinator for the group’s response to last year’s Indian Ocean tsunami, Guru hoped to lend his experience in relief efforts to the victims of Katrina.

“I came across North Serves South through a listserv,” he said. “I was looking for a community initiative.”

North Serves South, Guru’s group which headed the efforts, currently has a core of about eight members and has been working with Mission from Minnesota and the Minnesota Coalition to Aid Hurricane Katrina Survivors to bring relief to the Biloxi, Miss., area since just after Katrina hit.

The first trip left Sept. 3 for Biloxi. Guru, along with three others, drove a 26-foot-long truck and a pickup pulling a trailer and stopped along the way to pick up more supplies, mostly produce from farms and co-ops, he said.

The group tried to act as a means of transportation and allowed their contributions and efforts to be Mississippi-directed, he said.

The trucks left with about a third of their capacity filled and arrived in Biloxi nearly full, said Litahni Coleman, a volunteer who has been coordinating the trips from the Minnesota end.

When the trucks arrived in Biloxi, “there was no time for introductions,” Guru said. “We were all doing this together. There was no question of what the need was.”

Diana Knobel, a 2005 University alumna, took the opportunity to film a documentary, which runs just under nine minutes and showcases the trip to Biloxi and parts of the communities they served.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for me,” she said. “But I’m not doing it because it’s an incredible opportunity. We just wanted to help.”

The group worked with Biloxi City Council member Bill Stallworth to aid one of the poorest communities in the state, she said.

“We want to laser our focus,” Knobel said. “We adopted two communities – Biloxi and Ovett.

“There were 85-year-old women living in barns because their houses are destroyed. It’s a dire situation,” Knobel said. “But all lines of division are blending and blurring.”

She said people from all religions, sexual orientations and economic levels – even those who have directly opposed each other in the past – were working together and helping one another.

A second convoy was sent to Mississippi on Sept. 9 and returned safely. A third journey set off Sept. 16.

Based out of Camp Sister Spirit, the group hopes to continue its efforts on a long-term basis. The question is no longer “How can we help?” but rather “How can we sustain our efforts?” she said.

An organization in Mississippi has offered to donate its bus to the group’s cause if the Minnesota group can find approximately 20 supporters willing to take a two-week stint in Biloxi to help with construction.

“They’re looking for new labor,” Coleman said.

Three gathering sites have been set up around the Twin Cities, at Stonehenge Rocks and Rituals, 2520 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; Columbia Grounds Coffee House, 3301 Central Ave. N., Columbia Heights; and Immanuel Lutheran Church, 16515 Luther Way, Eden Prairie.

Any and all donations are welcome, Coleman said. Items such as cleaning supplies, premature infant supplies, geriatric supplies and nonperishable proteins are especially needed, she said.

The groups will host a fundraising concert today from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Coffee Grounds, 1579 Hamline Ave., Falcon Heights, which will include a showing of Knobel’s documentary and stories from the drivers as well as music from local artists.