The road to Mississippi 

Western Montana’s mild fall weather might make the drenched, demolished Southern states seem a world away, but trucks packed with dog food, clothing, toys, backpacks and canned goods are making the voyage anyway. At least two major local efforts, determined to cut through the red tape, are delivering necessities directly from Montanans to Mississippians.

“I wanted to organize and do a collection, but I wanted it to get directly to someone instead of just sending it off,” says Sherry Myers, a Hamilton resident who organized the collection of about eight truckloads of goods and about $4,500 in donations. She sent off the first half with Missoulian Chris Nowak, who owns a large cargo truck, and stayed in touch as he and a friend journeyed four days south to rural Mississippi.

Nowak ended up in Algiers after finding Pearl River, his original destination, abandoned. He found no organized relief work in sight, and Myers says Nowak called to relate scenes of absolute destruction.

“They were made almost speechless by what they were in the middle of,” she reports. “Total chaos.”

The National Guard, Myers relates, helped give directions in the absence of road signs, and waved Nowak’s truck, spray-painted with “Katrina Relief,” through several checkpoints. In Algiers, the pair handed out food and other donations to locals and gave bags of dog food to a woman caring for neighborhood dogs. Just before Hurricane Rita hit, the empty truck headed for home and was en route as of Sept. 28; Nowak was unavailable for comment.

The second load of goods Myers collected contributed to a second Missoula effort that sent off a full 48-foot semi truck Sept. 27. Missoulians Cheri and Curt Pijanowski orchestrated 11 drop-off locations around town, and Pioneer Freight donated a truck and driver to move the goods to Jackson, Miss., where Cheri will catch up with them Sept. 29 to help distribute goods and volunteer in area animal shelters.

“We were so overwhelmed by the response,” Cheri says. “We were worried about filling [the truck] but we stuffed it.”

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