Friend In Need Campaign
A Travelling Xena Goes To New Orleans to Visit Miss Lily Duke
Report by Aileen Mullaney
Lilly Duke and her Volunteers...with the Warrior Princess
Click here to view video clips
What I learned about the 'Lily Duke" effort group.
Please keep in mind that all I write is true to my knowledge and memory, however some events/people/time may be mistaken or misinterpreted as she talks and moves pretty fast!
Although you can only tell if you knew her personally, she was not born in the US. Miss Lily was born in the Philippines and moved to the US when she was in her late teens. She started out as an advertising designer and moved her way up to an Independent Producer. She relocated from New York less than a year ago to NOR to work on a movie.
Miss Lily is no stranger to disasters. As a matter in fact she jokes about having major events that seem to follow her. New York? She was there. San Francisco earthquake? Yup, she was there too. We all know how she got started, but let me tell you a bit of what's going on right now.
The best that I can tell is that FEMA pays organizations like Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc, for each food/water/clothes station they set up. So apparently she is stepping on a few toes over there because people are calling her for help.
Miss Lily receives no money or monetary rewards for her efforts. She relies on many groups including AFIN (A Friend In Need) for support and goods.
Miss Duke has approx 6-7 'PODS' set up all over town. (A pod is a storage unit or area where supplies are kept)
For this particular effort, Miss Lily works out of Mardi Gras World who supplies her storage and a work area. The site is surrounded by military barb wire and the National Guard has several guards posted at the entrance.
Lily's staff consists of 8-10 volunteer including FEMA Firefighters and Military personal. Some have been with her since the beginning. Rather than passing out flyers or other mundane tasks, the volunteers feel like they are making a difference there. They consider themselves family and have the utmost respect and love for Miss Lily.
A very nice lady who's name escapes me, (forgive me) as just recently volunteered to be Lily's assistant. Miss Lily has over 5 appreciation/commendation certificates including one from Major General William Caldwell and Commander Sgt. Major Jim Tomlinson. She also received close to a dozen various medals that she holds dearly.
On my last day FEMA dropped in and stated they are giving her 10 more volunteers. This meant that a couple of volunteers may actually get a few days off! The group starts at 7 am and reports to Lily. Everyone has a job to do. One
in charge of delivery, one sorting through all the incoming mail and the remaining divided where needed.
On my day of arrival we unloaded my cargo and sorted all the donated items that arrived that day. Boxes are sorted by school supplies and toys. Each in its own box. Scissors in one box, pencils in another ect... Once we separated
everything we could, Lily would call out a school grade and amount. We then put the exact amount of toys or backpacks either in a box or large trash bag and tagged it with the schools name and grade along with boy or girl. (In this case boy)
Unfortunately, we dumped some of the backpacks out that were donated because they were pre packed with school supplies and a toy or perhaps clothing. The thought was nice, but to be fair, all had to be as equal as humanly possible.
We made a human chain and everyone put one thing in the backpack and when it reached the end of the line each pack contained a notebook, a few pencils, colored pencils or crayons, glue or glue stick, all depending on age. The last two persons, which today one was me, zipped up the pack and counted 5 to a garbage bag and counted to the exact amount needed. When all was done we tagged the bags with the school and grade again and went on the next grade.
When all the grades are completed, a military truck, comes and loads the school supplies and toys. A volunteer leads the truck to the school where the items are given to the children by fully dressed Firefighters and soldiers.
Most of NOR has not heard of Miss Lily, but they are very familiar with the 'Marti Gras Compound.' All they know is their supplies came from "Mardi Gras". Folks are just now starting to put two and two together and realizing Miss Lily IS Mardi Gras!
I don't know how this all got started.
Call it a calling, inspiration, or whatever you like. I call it a blessing. Having won 2 bouts of cancer, the last one, (thyroid) the cancer cells died on their own and blessed with a great job, home and wonderful family, I won't allow myself to take anything for granted anymore. No stranger to giving, I have a brother in San Francisco who has dedicated his life to serve his community. My father lost his life to Agent Orange in exchange for something he believed in. Knowingly, he continued to serve in Nam until the bitter end to ensure the local orphanage had food and supplies. This year I have participated in 'Make A Wish', "Helping Hands", "Heroes", "Memory Walk for Alzheimer's" and a few other projects.
When I read about Miss Lily something inside me came alive. I called my old friend from a local TV show and he thought it was a great idea. He asked me if he could get me a truck, who would drive it? I told him I would. So he agreed to air my plight for boys' toys and books for Miss Lily.
I set up a date and called Miss Lily.
After a dozen phone calls I finally got a drop off point for folks to drop off the books and toys. I contacted the newspaper and a multi media unit for more coverage. I bought out St. Vincent's and Salvation Army's mostly used children's books, (about 420 in all) then spent the evening sorting and cleaning them for the schools and libraries.
On the morning of December 13th, with the help of my family, the books and toys were crammed into a borrowed SUV and cardboard Xena and I were on our way with what we had. I was told many times to "just mail the stuff." Yes, I guess I could have,
But when you take away all the monetary belongings, all that's left is what makes you a person. In this case, it was a commitment, my word, a promise.
To those of you that don't know, Xena Warrior Princess's costume and gear has just been accepted into the Smithsonian Institute. I decided to create a story of Xena coming to me demanding I take her to get them back. As I traveled we did a couple skits to break up the long driving days.
On the 3rd day I arrived in NOR, and filmed what I was able to with camera in one hand and steering wheel in the other. I missed the Mississippi Bridge 3 times and found my way to the French Quarter where I took the Ferry across.
I made it to Mardi Gras World in the early afternoon, made short introductions, took a few photos and we unloaded the goods. I also gave Miss Lily a large bag containing Team t-shirts along with some leather jackets leftover from a Christmas party I had. I told her these are from me and my co-workers for her staff.
After she opened her birthday gift I brought, we went straight to work. While Xena was inside Mardi Gras World getting new clothes from one of the designers I set off to help. We bagged and tagged until after dark. It was a struggle to find age appropriate boys' toys. I now, more than ever, wished I was able to collect more for them. A volunteer spoke up and said, "Are you kidding? You saved the day! With your load we can complete this school! You're our Hero!"
That was so sweet of him to say and his kind words made me feel better, but I'm no Hero by far, the REAL Heroes are the ones that gave up their lunch money or Starbucks money and went out and bought what they could afford. After a long day and a great speech from Lily Duke, everyone went to her home for a birthday gathering and a game of cards. We all talked for hours and soon became friends.
The following morning Lily approached me and said "Come on, were going for a ride. Grab your camera." With eyes barely open we waited and shivered in the early morning air for the crew and Military truck to show up.
"I want you to show everyone where the toys are going."
When everyone was ready to go, Lily sent me with Dan to lead the truck to Vic A Pitre School in Wego, a suburb of New Orleans. The remaining crew was ordered to stay behind. It was just learned that another day of scrambling is ahead. Lily just found out that this is the last day of school before Christmas break for one of the schools that needed help and it was a large one. "We have to hustle!"
I filmed the children receiving the much appreciated toys and backpacks and we headed back to the compound. It was time to go home and say goodbye to my new friends. As I was doing this one of the volunteers handed me a Task Force 83 t-shirt and said, "Here's your shirt. Your family now."
Swallowing hard and fighting back tears I thanked him and hugged everyone. As I was driving off the lot I looked back to find them all looking at me waving. I waved goodbye to the greatest group of Heroes I have ever known.
*Some of the filming is a bit shaky. Take it for what it's worth.
The last song is Wynona Judd "Love can build a Bridge".
I dedicate and give these words to the survivors of Katrina so they know
WE DID NOT AND WILL NOT FORGET THEM.