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Realtors shower Katrina victims with $3.2 million in donations

No one knows more how important a home is to its owner than the folks who sell them. Realtors across the country showed how true that is by contributing a total of $3.2 million to directly help families in Mississippi who lost their homes or suffered great damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Initially, more than $2.5 million was distributed by the Mississippi Association of Realtors (MAR) in grants of up to $2,500 per family. MAR received more than 15,000 applications from people from the Coast to as far north as Meridian and Tupelo. About 5,000 received grants.

“We tried to help as many people as possible,” said Russell Wilcox, chairman of the Mississippi Realtor Hurricane Relief Fund board of directors and a commercial Realtor for Woodlands Realty Group in Ridgeland. “We got a lot of thank you notes and a lot of e-mails saying the money they received came at just the right time. They weren’t sure what they were going to do next, and then got a check in the mail. We feel like we really did some good and helped people out when they needed it the most. We helped out Realtors, but also their friends, families and neighbors. Based on the response we got, the money was certainly appreciated.”

It was a large amount of work just going through the applications. For weeks the relief fund directors met an hour a day going over the applications from people whose losses ranged from just losing food in their freezer to those who had nothing left after the storm but a slab.

The funds were donated by members of MAR in Mississippi and other state and local associations across the country.

“They were gracious enough to send funds our way to help our families here who sustained damage,” Wilcox said. “We are very appreciative of their efforts. We couldn’t have done what we have done to help the people in Mississippi without the generosity of state and local associations from one end of the Coast to the other.

“Our fund was set up to cover the hurricane damage in our state, but we will keep the fund open for when a disaster happens somewhere else such as a hurricane in Florida or an earthquake in California so we can give funds to people in other states.”

Pam Beard, president of MAR, said funds continue to be distributed in a way designed to provide maximum benefits to the relief work. After the grants to individual families were given out, MAR looked for how an additional $250,000 donated from the National Association of Realtors could be spent to do the most good. MAR ended up teaming with the Lutheran Episcopal Disaster Response, which has up to 500 volunteers at a time working to repair storm damaged homes.

“We saw one of the biggest needs on the Coast was for supplies such as sheetrock, roofing, nails and insulation,” Beard said. “Then we had to figure out how to distribute the supplies. That is when we decided to work with the faith-based groups. Giving them supplies opened the floodgates for volunteers to go out and rebuild homes. Now the volunteers can rebuild as many homes as they can get to. They are so appreciative and excited. They can rebuild a house in a week. They can devote a whole team of volunteers to help now they have money for supplies.”

Another MAR relief effort is Realtors in partnership with their clients. If a Realtor closes on a house and a client wants to donate to a particular family, the Realtor will match the donation. A certain percentage of the closing costs will be donated to the needy family.

Beard said by helping one family, the entire region benefits.

“The magnitude of that disaster is so big that anything you can do to help any families down there gives hope to the whole area,” Beard said. “The wonderful thing is this is April. It has been almost eight months since the hurricane now, and people still want to help. I don’t think people really realize how bad it was. It is unbelievable. So you have to just dive in and do what you can. You have to find the avenue to get the help down there.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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