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Front Page » January 24, 2006 » Scene » Huntington native lends hand to hurricane victims
Published 4,048 days ago

Huntington native lends hand to hurricane victims

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Althea Stewart and sons who fled from Mississippi receive assistance from Bernice Nelson.

Editors Note: Bernice Nelson is 80 years old and was born in Huntington to Guy L. and Mabel Leonard Young. She graduated from North Emery High School in 1944. She married Bazel S. Nelson of Ferron who passed away several years ago. Bernice now lives in Lemon Grove, Calif. She recently answered the call for help for hurricane victims who had been uprooted by Hurricane Katrina and migrated to the San Diego area: Bernice's story by David Szeles was printed in her church newspaper "The San Diego Seagull" and is reprinted in the Emery County Progress with their permission. A second story appeared later when Bernice was asked to help a third family:

"Get out while you can" was the sound advice that Natasha Harris decided to take a few days before the devastating hurricane Katrina would hit Louisiana and Mississippi. This young single mom who has three children, Taylor, 8, Tyler, 3, and Trevon, 2, got help from a friend and found herself in the Houston Astrodome. Now what? Natasha made her way to sunny San Diego. "I figured I had to start over somewhere, and here school had not started yet, so it was a better transition for my daughter," she stated in a recent interview. Natasha was able to call and register with the Red Cross and FEMA where she got some leads for employment, schooling and the Headstart program for her youngest children. She was later able to get registered with Interfaith Community Services as a person in need.

Bernice Nelson, of Lemon Grove Ward, Sweetwater Stake, touched by what she had witnessed of the hurricanes on television, just knew she had to do something.

"I saw a story of a woman in San Diego who had an apartment but needed help to furnish it, and she said, 'If I just had a mattress, I would be so happy.' And I thought to myself, now I can get you a mattress; that's no problem. But I didn't know where to go to find her.

"The next morning I called the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to see how I could help. The Salvation Army gave me the number of the Door of Hope. I eventually got hold of the Interfaith Community Services in Escondido and the Paradise Community Services.

"While I was looking and wondering what I could do, I said, 'I'm 80 years old; I'm a widow; I just can't do it.' But the Spirit said to me, 'You can! Go get two single women with children because I will be there to help you,' and that's why I knew I wouldn't fail." Bernice's first single mother was Natasha, who had found an apartment but needed furniture. "I knew that with the help of family, friends, neighbors and the Church I could accomplish this," Bernice said. "One day I was talking to Tom Clabby, a member of the Lemon Grove City Council, and I mentioned what I planned to do. The next day he delivered a beautiful, though used, creme leather couch and two chairs. I put it in the garage and with the help of my daughter, Torrie Wills, we got a desk, lamp stand, lamp, sheets, towels and many other items.

Bernice Nelson helps hurricane victims.

"I called Bishop Jim Pack of our ward and asked if he could arrange for the truck to take these things to her apartment. He called Joe Snodgrass, and with his two boys and with the help of Bishop Pack, we delivered the items. She was very grateful.

"With the okay of our stake president, John Snodgrass, Bishop Pack wrote an order for Deseret Industries, and we picked up three mattresses and one box springs. I'm still trying to get them bunk beds. Natasha and I went shopping for new clothes that she could wear for interviews. She had worked in a bank in New Orleans and was hoping for a similar job here. Though she hadn't been able to bring much with her, luckily she was able to bring her computer, which has so much information that is helping her now."

Asked if she had any recommendations for other victims of disasters, Natasha stated, "Be strong and keep your head up. It may seem like everything you need you don't have, but it'll come back to you. Everything can be replaced but your life. So just hold on; you'll get there."

Sister Nelson answered the call and did what she could to help Natasha and her family "get there." "I feel these people deserve the best I can give them, and that's what I've done. Though these things were used, they were in very good condition."

About a week after she began helping Natasha, Bernice was asked to take another single mother and family, Althea Stewart and her four boys from Mississippi. The boys are Trayvone, 17, Tyler, 13, and two adopted nephews, Eric, 15, and Josh, 12. Althea had found a house with the help of FEMA. She used her gift cards for school clothes for the children and some for herself. She was a bus driver in Mississippi and has gone to school to get a license to drive a bus in San Diego, which she is already doing.

Bernice said when she was asked to take on another family she thought, "Am I up to that so soon-just a week apart?" Then she said, "Yes, I am. With boys I'm up to it. I had three sons myself-and one daughter." She continued, "We've just had a beautiful, spiritual, happy and loving experience by going everywhere to try to get things. It has been a community of neighbors, friends and church, and we've all come together for this purpose.

"One night I just couldn't get my friend, Nancy Weber, off my mind, so I called her the next morning." Sister Weber is the Relief Society president in Fanita Ward, Santee Stake, and also a captain in the La Mesa Camp of Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. Bernice is also a member of DUP.

Nancy called the next day and said she had a friend who was getting all new furniture in her living room and they could come and get her old furniture. So again Joe Snodgrass and his boys delivered the furniture, plus a kitchen table and chairs, along with new towels and blankets.Althea had no food, so Bishop Pack and his wife Kathryn delivered food for them from the bishop's storehouse. Althea found that she could get other things she needed, such as a chest of drawers and a washer and dryer, from the Salvation Army. Bernice found help from businesses, too. Althea's car needed work, so she helped Althea get it to Jesse's Muffler and Brake Shop, where the car was fixed with no charge. Anna's Linens of Lemon Grove donated nine new pillows and cases for both families.

Bernice said, "Getting involved in this undertaking, I am shocked to find that there is little help in the way of money for these victims. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army give them vouchers or gift cards and they have to shop at the Salvation Army or WalMart. They get two gift cards which are worth $600. FEMA helps them with rent."

Bernice is concerned about some of the other 2700 people-800 families-from Louisiana and Mississippi who are currently here in San Diego. "There are between 300 and 400 of them still placed in San Diego area hotels by the Red Cross for 30 days," she said. "But the Family Assistance program is closing, and they all will have to find apartments to live in. They will be given $2,300 to pay for the first month's rent, last month and security deposit by FEMA. However, they will be, in most cases, moving into an empty apartment. Most families have lost everything."

Bishop Pack of Lemon Grove Ward said, "A lot of people talked about helping the Hurricane victims, but I was so impressed with the fact that Sister Nelson actually went out, found two families with needs, got people involved and made it happen."

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