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Massachusetts Groups Do Their Part To Help Midwest Flood-Relief Effort

On Wednesday, 30 tractor-trailers carrying food, supplies will depart

MASSACHUSETTS residents are pitching in with zest to help out Midwestern flood victims.

This week, relief organizers are hoping to send a caravan of 30 28-foot tractor trailers full of food and other supplies to rain-soaked residents of Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. The effort is sponsored by "Mass Drive for the Midwest," an alliance of businesses, organized labor, and the Salvation Army.

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One of the largest relief groups in the region, it is receiving donations of food, dry goods, mops, paper towels, and other items at 29 Salvation Army sites in the state. Trucks will depart with the goods Wednesday, capping a week-long collection effort.

"We're very impressed by the rapidness that this organization has come together," says Steve Capoccia, public-relations director at the Massachusetts Salvation Army headquarters in Boston.

Three trucking companies - Yellow Freight Co., Consolidated Freight Co., and Roadway Express Inc. - will supply trucks for the effort, while members of Teamsters Union Local 25 have offered to drive them.

Organizers announced the new alliance last week on the Boston Common, accompanied by Democratic Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry.The effort was initiated by Bull Worldwide Information Systems, a Billerica, Mass.-based computer company. According to Tim Kilduff, public-affairs director at Bull, the company started looking into the idea after employees expressed concern over the flooding.

"We started getting calls from our employees: `Is the company going to do something?' and `What are we going to do?' " Mr. Kilduff says.

So far, 200 to 300 volunteers are participating in the effort. Roberta Goldman, who teaches school in Shrewsbury, Mass., decided to join up last week. With the summer off, she signed up to man telephones at a Salvation Army office (phone: 1-800-224-GIVE).

"I was sitting here planning my school lessons for the fall, programming my VCR, and cutting out clips. All of sudden, I said to myself: `Here I am, and I have a summer. What am I doing here?' " she says. The eighth-grade teacher of world geography was preparing lessons about Midwest flood plains. "One of the messages I always give to my kids is: What can you do to make a difference?" she says. "And I was sitting here with my television on saying: `I am not making much of a difference at all' ."

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Organizers hope that the effort will be a model for future operations. "When there is a disaster outside the area, there is always the issue of transportation," Mr. Capoccia says. "So by keeping this coalition together, we could rapidly deploy ourselves. As soon as something happens in another part of the country or here, we would have all the groundwork and contacts figured out in advance."

AS for this effort, Mass Drive is encouraging anyone to donate. Although food and cleaning supplies are welcome, organizers discourage people from sending used clothing. "When you have a bag of clothing, and you don't know what's in it, it's just another job," Capoccia says. "And at the disaster end, what you don't want to do is give [workers] more work to do."

Money donations are often the most valuable, Kilduff says. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with checks."

The Mass Drive initiative is one of several Midwest relief efforts in the region. Quincy, Mass., for example, donated food and supplies to its sister city of Quincy, Ill. Quincy, Mass., residents and stores donated 175,000 to 200,000 pounds of nonperishable goods, such as canned foods, rice, juices, and toothpaste.

Quincy Mayor James Sheets traveled with four truckloads of supplies to meet residents in the Illinois community. "I arrived out there with the first trailer-truck load on Sunday [July 18] at about 9:30 p.m., and we were met by 500 people," he says. "It was probably one of the most moving experiences of my political life." The city declared "Quincy, Massachusetts Day" July 19 and armed the mayor with 2,500 bumper stickers that say: "Fought the River in the Great Flood of '93."

But the assistance has not stopped. Sheets says his city, which has collected $15,000 in donations, hopes to send $20,000 to $25,000 to its sister city in coming weeks.

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