When the planeloads of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina arrived at the D.C. Armory, Hyattsville beautician Freda Brown turned up with her crimping iron and hair supplies.
After the troubles these folks had endured, she reasoned, they could use free hairdos.
"I wanted the men and women to groom themselves and be beautiful again," Brown said as she strode across the armory wearing a designer pantsuit, high-heel shoes and the official red volunteer badge that allowed her inside. "Ladies want to be groomed . . . and get back to the basics of who [they] were before the storm happened," she said.
Wearing a priestly collar and black pants, Largo trial lawyer Bobby Henry stood outside the armory to greet the evacuees who arrived last week.
"I greeted a man who said, 'My wife died back there,' " said Henry, an associate minister at Jericho City of Praise in Landover. "We wanted to be here as ministers to share with our brothers and sisters the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ."
Even though federal agencies, the American Red Cross and cities and counties across the region have organized efforts to help thousands of people displaced by the storm, ordinary people are coming out in droves to be part of this army of compassion.
Justine Shoyelu-Conteh, a restaurant manager from Cheltenham, went to the armory last week and left with three evacuees from New Orleans, inviting them into her home. "If I were in this situation," she said, "I would hope that someone would help me."
Lisa Van Buren, a former New Orleans resident who lives in Reston, came with her two daughters, 2 and 4. She said of her elder daughter, "I wanted her to physically hand something to kids that don't have anything anymore."
The efforts extended beyond the D.C. Armory. In Beltsville, more than 700 families gathered at the temple of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha socio-spiritual organization, for prayers and to organize a blood drive for hurricane victims. In College Park, the owner of Lasicks restaurant loaded a tractor-trailer in the parking lot where his establishment was gutted by fire this year.
"I know what it is like to lose everything that you have," said Joe Lasicks, who worked with the Prince George's County Rotary Club to fill the tractor-trailer. Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe and his brother, Brian R. Moe, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from Prince George's, were among a host of officials who spent last Sunday loading up the tractor-trailer.
The outpouring of donations has had a big impact on New Orleans evacuees such as 58-year-old Charles Stewart, who sat on the steps of the D.C. Armory last week and talked about his ordeal.
"I like the atmosphere here," Stewart said as he watched the volunteers in action. As Stewart and other evacuees traded stories, U.S. Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), whose district includes New Orleans, thanked the Washington area people who had turned out to help.
"I am grateful to people all over the country for helping our people," Jefferson said. "We couldn't have had our people safe and well fed without the people of Washington and all over the country taking them in."