By Brooke Geery
Early in the morning of Aug. 27, Hurricane Laura slammed into DeRidder, Louisiana, causing widespread destruction. Ruth Tolar, a 30-year resident of Killington, watched from afar as her hometown, and her entire family, sat directly in the hurricane’s path.
“Even though the floods were not what was expected, there is extreme damage done to the area,” Tolar said on Facebook. “Most of the areas are looking at 6-8 weeks—at least—before power comes back on. They are in 110 degrees daily with no relief in sight. Some have a trickle of water, but it is unsafe.”
Her daughter, who is attending college in Louisiana, came home after a mandatory evacuation to find her apartment inaccessible. “Even after going through Irene, she was not prepared for this. My heart broke as she said, ‘it’s like everyone has just forgotten about us,’” Tolar said.
Tolar quickly moved into action, tapping the local community to help. On Sept. 2, Tolar, her sister Tammy Congleton and Laurie Davis collected supplies near Walmart. On Sept. 5, she and her husband, Mike Tolar, brought the truck to Killington Pico Area Association’s parking lot on Route 4 and on Sept. 7, Mike, Paul Stiles, and Sjontavious Smith collected at Mac’s Market in Woodstock while Tolar collected at Price Chopper in Rutland.
“We had numerous donations dropped at Killington local Melanie Merrill’s house for us and also lots dropped off on my porch daily over the weekend,” Tolar said.
The community showed up to support the efforts. All told, they collected roughly 300 gallons of gas, more than a pallet of water, 70 cases of canned goods, paper towels, batteries, baby supplies, pet food, sanitizer, personal hygiene items galore, work gloves, bug spray, sunscreen and more.
Tolar was thrilled with the donations. “I am so grateful to be able to do this for my Louisiana folks, but overwhelmed at the love my Killington folks showed us today. [From] the $3 in cash and written notes of encouragement to the ones that came with a trunk load….you made our day!”
Paul Stiles volunteered to drive the supplies down South, and on Sept. 9 he pulled into DeRidder, where a team of Tolar’s family members were waiting to help unload the trailer.
“My aunts and cousins had an area of tables set up to separate all of the donated items so that families could come and shop for items they needed,” Tolar said. “[On Thursday] a large amount of local folks from DeRidder and even a few from surrounding towns came to collect a “starter” box, then were able to go through and pick items they were in need of. Items were picked up and delivered to some of the elderly. I received a message from a local resident who was in the hospital but would need food when she left, so a large box is being put aside for her.
“The entire Louisiana community is so thankful to all of the Vermont communities that took the time to not only gather donations, but to hand write words of encouragement to them. These notes were put in random boxes, a nice surprise for those that have lost so much.”