The Calvert Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously this week to spend up to $50,000 to provide relief supplies to a county in Mississippi that has been devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
During a Tuesday meeting when at least one commissioner hovered on the verge of tears, the board designated Harrison County -- a partly rural stretch of the Gulf Coast that is home to Biloxi and Gulfport -- as Calvert's sister county.
A truck loaded with supplies for storm evacuees -- from diapers and toilet paper to mops and twin bed sheets -- was scheduled to leave late last night or early this morning from Southern Maryland for Pass Christian in Harrison County.
"These are people just like us," said Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby), who noted that Harrison and Calvert are both on the water. "These are watermen."
Officials had originally proposed contributing $50,000 directly to the Red Cross for the evacuees. However, support for that idea was not unanimous. Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown) alerted a local talk radio show about the plan, and some listeners contacted the commissioners to complain.
"I don't want to just write a county check and hand it to one particular nonprofit," Shaw said at Tuesday's commissioners meeting. "I don't think that's an appropriate thing to do with taxpayer money."
So, even though county staff members had ordered a giant check and asked a representative from the Red Cross to be at the meeting, the donation ultimately approved had nothing to do with the Red Cross.
Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large), the board's most vocal advocate of fiscal austerity, suggested instead that up to $50,000 be spent on supplies for Harrison County.
"I don't think being fiscally conservative and compassionate are mutually exclusive," she said.
Kelley said the money going to the evacuees amounted to a contribution of about 58 cents from every resident of Calvert County. "I certainly don't think that's extravagant," she said.
The county's donation piggy-backed on an effort by the St. Leonard Volunteer Fire Department to collect donations for Harrison County. D.O. Baker, the chairman of the board of directors of the department, said the volunteers picked Harrison because it seemed to be roughly the size and rural character of Calvert.
"This is the closest county [affected by Katrina] for size and demographics to Calvert," he said. "It matched our setting pretty closely."
Commissioner Wilson H. Parran (D-At Large) remembered how Hurricane Camille wreaked similar devastation on coastal Mississippi in 1969, when he was in Biloxi with the Air Force.
"Thirty-six years ago, I saw the same thing happen," he said. Then he choked up and had to pause for several moments before he could continue. "The same people today are impacted.
"As Americans, we just need to realize that we've got to do whatever we can to help them," he said.
The St. Leonard Volunteer Fire Department plans to continue collecting relief supplies and driving them to Mississippi. Anyone interested can drop off donations at the firehouse, 200 Calvert Beach Rd. in St. Leonard, or call 410-586-1713.