Audio Postcard: Magic's Katrina Relief Effort

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Karen Grigsby Bates drops by a Los Angeles shopping mall to report on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts organized by former basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Many victims of Hurricane Katrina have relocated to California, and Californians are also sending what they can to people who have stayed in the Gulf Coast region. Last weekend, one of our reporters stopped by a Los Angeles community drive for Katrina contributions and has this audio postcard.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES reporting:

I'm Karen Grigsby Bates here at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in the heart of LA's black community, where this afternoon, the northernmost part of the parking lot has been filled to bursting with contributions for victims of Hurricane Katrina. This event was organized by former LA Laker-turned-entrepreneur entrepreneur and philanthropist Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who has decided to gather up contributions and have them shipped down to the Gulf Coast states that need them most. A burly man who wore a staffer's badge but refused to give his name said he was pleasantly surprised at the generosity that he was seeing all around him.

Unidentified Man: This is unbelievable. I mean, we expected to be here till around maybe 5, 6:00 this evening, but it looks like we're going to be here for about two or three days trying to get everything situated. We had to stop it. It became so much we just couldn't take anymore. And people are still bringing stuff--like that big U-Haul right there is full of stuff--and we just have no--we just can't take it. This one lady just brought 300 Barbie dolls for the kids, brand new. I mean, we got brand-new toiletries and--most of the stuff we got is excellent stuff.

BATES: In fact, about a third of the mall's huge parking lot was filled with `excellent stuff.' As some staffers directed parking, others were sorting through several towering pyramids of black plastic trash bags filled with clothes, books, canned goods and toys. Under a canvas tarp, a group of women were taking cash contributions while another group behind them taped cardboard boxes shut with furious speed. Volunteer coordinator Suzane Simmon says a lot of people got more involved than they intended when they stopped by with donations.

Ms. SUZANE SIMMON (Volunteer Coordinator): Some people come off to drop off things and then asked if we needed help and then stayed to help. I mean, most people started in the morning and they're still here, and then we're getting new people all the time. So I would guess it's over a hundred people just volunteering.

BATES: Deborah Dobson says she was running out of things to put contributions in.

Ms. DEBORAH DOBSON (Volunteer): We could use more boxes to come in to put out everything. Basically, we're just finding small boxes around that we've emptied up and trying to fill those up. One guy brought in about four humongous boxes of Nike sneakers.

BATES: New Nikes?

Ms. DOBSON: They're not brand new, but they look like they've only been worn maybe once or twice.

BATES: And how long have you been at this?

Ms. DOBSON: Since about 11 this morning.

BATES: And how long do you expect to be here tonight?

Ms. DOBSON: Until I am so tired I can't move.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BATES: So down here this Sunday, the notion of `Ask and you shall receive' has been answered, and then some. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News, at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles.

BRAND: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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