VANCOUVER, Wash. – Two Washington State University Vancouver students organized a relief effort for the victims of Hurricane Katrina by collecting donations of cash, baby formula, diapers, and other infant supplies for delivery to the Houston Astrodome.


Wayne and Chantielle Johnston, a husband and wife living in Vancouver, solicited contributions from fellow students, friends, neighbors, local businesses and churches to fill a Ryder truck, which Chantielle then drove to Houston with the help of two friends, Phil Hart and Aaron Roiter.


The total value of donations was estimated to be $60,000 or more, according to Chantielle Johnston.


“It was awesome to give people the opportunity to help in a hands-on way,” she said. “They loved the idea of being able to give items directly to the people in need, instead of just writing a check. We had lines of cars waiting to pull up to the truck and drop off donations. We couldn’t take donations fast enough.”


Some donors wrote goodwill messages on their care packages to Houston.


“One person took a marker and wrote ‘Vancouver, Washington, loves you and is thinking of you,’” she said.


Among the most enthusiastic givers were Wayne’s classmates in the master’s in teaching program at WSU Vancouver.


“One of the primary goals of many WSU Vancouver faculty members is to encourage students to become community activists and leaders, or what has been termed ‘public intellectuals.’ It used to be that I knew Wayne as a student, but now I can proudly say that I know him both as a student and as a leader in the Vancouver community,” said Susan Finley, associate professor of education and chair of the master’s in teaching program.


The truck departed from Vancouver on Monday evening, Sept. 5, a mere four days after the idea was hatched by Chantielle. On the morning of Thursday, Sept. 8, the truck arrived in Houston, where she, Hart, and Roiter began distributing the donations from the Vancouver community.


Chantielle said that she will always treasure the spirit of friendship that arose between the people in the Northwest and the survivors of Katrina.


“We can’t allow geography to limit who we consider our neighbors,” she said.