Editorial: Monday mix on dispatching help to Houston, a Little Free Library; and kindness rocks

  • John Lombard of Northampton works Sept. 4 to secure a knob on the door of the new Little Free Library on Munroe Street in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Using the reach of the internet, two women in Northampton spent hours helping to dispatch volunteer rescuers to people trapped by the floodwaters in Houston.

Roommates Holly Abair, 34, and Sky Sutton, 43, checked social media for messages from victims seeking rescue after Hurricane Harvey barreled through Texas. Then they used the Zello walkie-talkie application on a smartphone to relay that information to volunteers who were going door-to-door, often by boat.

The hurricane flooded hundreds of thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people and resulted in more than 13,000 rescues in southeast Texas, the Dallas Morning News reported. Emergency workers were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the storm, leaving many victims to seek help via social media.

Abair and Sutton took on their mission after seeing this Twitter post Aug. 27 from a woman trapped in her home: “Please don’t let me die, please don’t let me die.” They were able to locate the woman and instructed her to download Zello to communicate with the “Cajun Navy,” volunteers from Louisiana who brought their boats to Texas. That woman was brought to a shelter.

Though she does not have any relatives or friends in the Houston area, Abair said she wanted to help when she saw video of the rising floodwaters and listened to news reports about the damage. “A lot of these people have no one to save them — we are trying to save them,” by monitoring Twitter posts with hashtags like #sosHarvey and #helphouston, she said. “I wish I could be down there to pull people out myself, but this is the best I can do.”

Abair said she was so invested in the effort that she stayed up all night making spreadsheets placing the location of victims on a map of Houston neighborhoods. “I’m very tired. I can’t sleep. I’ll get in bed and think of all the animals and people I could be saving, and then I’ll start dispatching again,” she said. “People are in trouble so I found a way to help.”

Commendably, Abair and Sutton combined their compassion with social media tools to extend a helping hand to strangers nearly 2,000 miles away in Houston.

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The South Street neighborhood in Northampton is enriched with books thanks to a Little Free Library built by residents.

A year in the making after $263 was collected during a block party on Labor Day 2016, the library was opened to readers on Sept. 4 when it was stocked with books by local authors. The library, designed by custom furniture craftsman Silas Kopf, is a wooden container atop two posts on property owned by Julie and Jim Kurose. Youngsters under age 18 who live in the neighborhood will compete in a design contest and the winner will get to paint the library.

It is registered with the nonprofit Little Free Library that “inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”

Jacob Carter came across the library while on a walk with his son Samuel the morning it opened. They sat on the curb to read “The Cookie Fiasco” by Dan Santat. Dad interrupted his reading to tell a reporter, “This is a welcome surprise.” His son said simply, “Please read.”

Those are beautiful words, whether uttered by someone young or old.

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Rocks, dressed up with painted messages, are bringing smiles to the faces of people in Easthampton.

Corinna Brundige, 32, who owns a heating and cooling company, worked with her husband and 9-year-old stepdaughter to paint rocks with different hues, pictures of flowers and messages such as “you rock.” Brundige, who has painted at least 100 rocks, hides them around Easthampton for people to find.

Started on Cape Cod in 2015, the Kindness Rock Project is now promoted by Michaels arts and crafts stores.

Brundige created a Facebook group called “Rocking Easthampton” in August, and the Maple Street School has adopted the project as part of the all-school theme on kindness.

One woman who found a rock in Easthampton posted on Facebook, “Thank you kind stranger. We’ll definitely be creating some rocks of our own in the hopes of warming a few other hearts.”

That simple act of kindness says a lot about the spirit that makes America great.