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Relief Efforts

Toms and Sutton pitching in to help Katrina Victims

Posted: Friday September 2, 2005 4:39PM; Updated: Friday September 2, 2005 4:53PM
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David Toms lives in Shreveport, Louisiana, some 340 miles from New Orleans, but he doesn't have to travel far to see evidence of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

"There's a shelter a mile from my office, at LSU's Shreveport campus, and we have 1,000 people down there," he said Friday afternoon. "Just 200 yards from my office there's a hotel full of refugees. [They're] all over town. You don't actually have to go to a shelter to run into somebody whose been displaced."

In the days after Katrina struck, the sports pages detailed how golf was hurt -- how courses were damaged, and tournaments, both professional and amateur, were placed in jeopardy. More important, however, is how golf is trying to help.

Toms and his foundation (donations through davidtomsfoundation.com) have been busy since Tuesday relocating families with young children from shelters into hotel rooms, with the foundation bearing the cost.

He's not the only Shreveport-based pro helping in relief efforts. Hal Sutton, along with his wife, Ashley, have spent the week visiting shelters (one of which is the sports arena at Centenary College, Sutton's alma mater), and buying supplies for the evacuees living in them.

Sutton said that the couple spent most of Wednesday "at Sam's Club and WalMart buying supplies, and taking them down to these people. They have nothing, and have babies who need medicine and formula, and need diaper changes, and everything like that. That's where we're trying to do some good."

That Sutton and Toms have prioritized families with young children is in keeping with the missions of their foundations. Sutton's focuses on pediatric health care, and Toms' on at-risk children. "There's literally hundreds of thousands of them in our state right now," Toms said.

Their annual Hal Sutton-David Toms Christus Schumpert Charity Classic, a pro-am in which over 30 PGA Tour pros participate, has been a principal underwriter of a new children's hospital in Shreveport.

Toms said that since Katrina struck, some of those same fellow pros have called, opened their wallets, and "helped out in a big way."

The Sutton Foundation -- which is raising monies for disaster relief in cooperation through local television station KTBS (ktbs.com) -- will concentrate on Shreveport's public school system. According to current estimates, there are now 5,000 people in Shreveport shelters. But as refugees continue to enter the city, the number of children alone will likely surpass 2,000. The foundation will assist in finding classroom space, and with buying supplies.

Still, actually providing relief can be an uphill battle. So desperate are the refugees' situations that it's a challenge to meet all their needs.

"A family we're helping out has two girls in college," Toms said. "One's a pre-med student, and the other is enrolled in a nursing program. But their parents have no jobs, and they have no money in their pockets. We originally approached them about getting out of the shelter and into a hotel. But they said, What do we do then? We have shelter here -- and free food. We don't have any money to buy food on our own."

At this stage, Sutton and Toms admitted, their efforts are dwarfed by the enormity of the catastrophe. "It's tragic what's happened," Sutton said. "There isn't any doubt about that."

"Our region is going to be in chaos for a long time," echoed Toms. "The media's not playing it up to make it seem worse than it is. The reality is that it's as bad or worse than what you're seeing on TV. It's going to take a lot of help from a lot of people to get everybody back to living a normal life again."