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Sarah Michelle Gellar

Sarah Michelle Gellar makes a donation for Katrina evacuees

David Jacobs

Sunday 27 November 2005, by Webmaster

Almost 300 Katrina evacuees provided Thanksgiving feast

Avis Stringfield, left, greets a young fellow church member while Johnny Drago eats his meal during the First Baptist Church’s Thanksgiving Evangelistic Block Party in downtown Baton Rouge on Sunday. Maria Brown and Cynthia Williams are both from New Orleans East, but they never met until they evacuated their families to the shelter at Istrouma Baptist Church.

The two formed a friendship there and looked after each other and each other’s children.

"We stuck together because we had to," Williams said. She said they lost touch when they moved out of the shelter.

On Sunday evening, they shared a joyful reunion at the Baton Rouge River Center, where the Boys and Girls Club and a new organization called A Heart of Thanksgiving sponsored an elegant Thanksgiving dinner for almost 300 Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

Along with a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, the groups provided T-shirts, arts and crafts and games for the children, and even a pair of spacewalks.

A Heart of Thanksgiving was founded by Geno Chaviano, a financial advisor in New York City, and Isabel Dawson, mother of actress Rosario Dawson.

"We got a call from Isabel Dawson about three weeks ago, saying she had this dream" to help evacuee families, said Pat Van Burkleo, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Baton Rouge .

Van Burkleo suggested holding a formal Thanksgiving dinner for the evacuee children the Club has been working with at Scotlandville Middle School and their families.

"We really wanted to have a sit-down dinner, because they’re always standing in line," Van Burkleo said.

He said holding the dinner at the River Center was like completing a circle, because so many of the evacuees had lived there.

"Hopefully we’re making some fond memories here," he said.

Dawson said A Heart for Thanksgiving is "not a one-shot deal."

"We wanted to introduce ourselves," she told the diners. "We want to help your quality of life, knowing you’re going to be in those trailers for a while."

Dawson said she hopes to work with local organizations to reach out to evacuees.

"I want them to tell me what they want," she said. "I want to find out from the local organizations what they need."

She said the organization already has received donations from some of her daughter’s Hollywood contacts, including actress Sarah Michelle Gellar and Christopher Columbus, director of Rosario Dawson’s new film, "Rent."

The organization also received $10,000 from Sony Pictures and $12,500 from Revolution Studios, she said.

"I’m gonna ask anybody Rosario’s ever worked for," Isabel Dawson said.

As Dawson worked the room, posing for pictures and exchanging hugs with evacuees, she met Juan Bush of New Orleans.

"I think she’s beautiful," Bush said.

Bush lives in Renaissance Village, the FEMA park in Baker, which he described as a lonely place. His family is in Florida.

"When you lay down at night, you can’t help but remember everything you’ve lost," he said.

Bush called the Thanksgiving meal "outstanding" and said it was probably the best thing that had happened to him since leaving New Orleans.

"When people do things like this, you can’t help but cry inside," Bush said. "I’m glad I came."