I spent about an hour over at the sheriff's office last night. It's just a mile away, so I rode my bike and leaned on it most of the time while watching the last-minute hustle-bustle before the Operation Backup crew climbed in their rigs (two U-Hauls, an RV and a police car). They headed down the Sand Creek Cut-off Road about 7:30 bound for Coeur d'Alene to meet up with other Idaho law officers who would be joining them in the caravan to Mississippi.
Elaine Savage, our sheriff who grew up in Priest River and graduated from its high school in 1972, told me the group plans to proceed south toward Boise, then turn east to Twin Falls and Pocatello. They'll stay on an eastern route through Cheyenne, Wyoming, and eventually travel south through Mississippi. Once there, they'll be providing back-up law enforcement for weary Mississippi law officers who need a break to take care of their personal and family needs. Their involvement in this project has been coordinated by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's office in Louisiana.
"We're in constant contact with a sheriff's office in Louisiana and will accept direction from them once we arrive," Sheriff Savage says.
While visiting with Daily Bee reporter Keith Kinnaird, I learned that the sheriff had dealt with some minor local flak for promoting this project. Someone, who apparently wasn't aware that Louisiana follows the French governmental system of parishes rather than counties, called to complain about these donations supporting a Catholic Church. Other than that isolated case, it seems that generous local businesses, civic and church groups, and individuals have eagerly and enthusiastically supported this wonderful grass roots effort.
Dressed in blue jeans and her Dallas Cowboys T-shirt [Elaine spent 28 years in Texas before returning home] and waiting to depart with her mother Juanita, Elaine held a wad of money in her hand as Victor Vachon stepped up and handed her more----donations his wife Jessie had collected at Litehouse Graphics. Elaine estimates that when pledges come in, financial donations alone will amount to nearly $30,000. Not bad for three or four days' notice at the most.
When I first arrived at the sheriff's office, Deputy Math Hathaway was seated with his helper next to a huge U-Haul truck which promotes Mississippi and its sand pipers. He gave me a steady stream of anecdotes about what he'd witnessed while accepting and organizing donated items throughout the day, including one story about a dedicated pair who'd gone out collecting and had amassed $7,000 alone.
"Most of the stuff we loaded on the truck [the other West Virginia U-Haul which was full to the brim] is brand new," he told me. In one case, a guy brought in a pile of baseball caps with "Idaho" on them. Before spending four hours to load the first truck, Matt said stuff was piled clear to the ceiling of the sheriff's office garage. Elaine also told me her staff finally had to stop accepting donated items because of the need to save room for about seven more stops down the road.
One by one, the sheriff's deputies who've volunteered for this mission arrived. At first, tall, lanky, handsome Christian Frye was pretty busy seeing that his U-Haul was gassed up, but later we exchanged greetings and talked about what year he graduated from Sandpoint High School, which happened to be 1993. He said he's been working with the sheriff's department ever since.
As for Victor, he graduated in 1991. This polite young man grew up on a small horse farm west of Sandpoint with two brothers. Turns out he married one of my hard-working students, Jessie Hixson, who started her graphic arts career in my class at Sandpoint High School. Victor told me that he and Jessie had watched the Katrina TV coverage, talked about the possibility that some deputies would be going and agreed it was the thing to do. When the call came, he stepped forward---even though he'd prefer to be home with his wife.
I also visited briefly with Brian Martinez who grew up in a small town near Great Falls, Montana. He and Keith Kinnaird shared a few words about the sports teams and their mascots in that area which Keith had covered while working in Billings. I'm guessing Brian was a track athlete during his high school years---and a good one since he knew all about the state meets.
Just barely met Dep. Ron Pell who, like Christian was scurrying about getting his sheriff's rig ready. And, finally Capt. Jim Drake gave me his card and assured me he'd keep in touch with words and digital photos with his laptop. I'm holding him to the promise and have already sent him an email to connect.
Elaine Savage, who'll be flying back to Sandpoint later this week, raves about the generosity she's seen over the past few days. I'll let her following words convey the message: I cannot even begin to express the necessary thanks to this beautiful county we live in and its fine residents. I am most impressed with the support given the sheriff's office---money, food, and miscellaneous donations of clothing, baby items---oh, but the list goes on.
We are still accepting cash donations to fund the rental of the U-Hauls, fuel (hair-raising), food for the five deputies and return flights. I will very carefully track our expenditures and make it available upon request. We are also providing receipts for cash donations at the Sandpoint and Priest River Sheriff's offices.
The Fraternal Order of Police membership in Bonner County have helped coordinate this also. Sgt. Darryl Wheeler from Sandpoint Police Dept. has spent many hours sorting donations, boxing and labeling items. There are just to many to list right now, but I will try to name more in future emails.
A little controversy over our "Operation Back-up," but it's coming from the same agencies that haven't helped already, so we will forge ahead. We are on the side of right and not going to sit back and wait. How many meetings, memoranda, and plans can we make before we truly help those in need? So, we will be off, and I will contnue to keep you up to date.
So, stay tuned. I'll feed you information as they feed it to me. Financial donations can be sent to "Operation Back-up," Bonner County Sheriff's Office, 4001 North Boyer Avenue, Sandpoint, Idaho 83864