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Monday, September 12, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Home, help await "adopted" family, if one will come

Seattle Times reporter

How to help


Operation Hands-On can be reached at 253-565-2355. The office is open on Saturdays at 3617 Bridgeport Way, University Place.

This is what Christie Bazar has found for survivors of Hurricane Katrina: a tidy, two-bedroom apartment, with a view through the trees of Puget Sound. For four months, a family can stay there, without paying a cent of rent.

But if you ask her, it's not enough. The kids will need tutoring. The parents will want rides to the store. So it's a lucky thing Bazar lives nearby. She has already planned daily visits, and a family has not even arrived.

"They'll either love me or hate me," said Bazar, 51.

Across the state, people are offering up rooms in their houses and trailer parks on their property, hoping to host families from the Gulf states. But in a frenzy of enthusiasm, Bazar has gone further: She is trying to pull the entire city of University Place, Pierce County, into her plan to adopt a family.

"Operation Hands-On" is what she calls it.

"I think giving money is great," she told a group of Curtis High School students on Friday. "But I want to do more."

In the space of just a few days, Bazar persuaded city officials to give office space for a headquarters for the effort; a property owner to lend a 950-square-foot apartment for up to four months; and high-school students to pick up furniture for the family, sell sweat shirts as a fund-raiser and paper the town with fliers seeking contributions.

For Bazar, the commitment comes from deep inside. She saw herself in the images of black families stuck in New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss., too poor to make their way out.

She's never been forced to swim through the floodwaters of a hurricane, with a child under her arm.

But Bazar has felt the strain of poverty, as a single mother with two children. She has stood in food lines. She has accepted welfare. She has been able to work her way out of it.

"These are my people," said Bazar, speaking of the survivors.

After so many days watching television, she came up with the idea to adopt a family, and get the whole city involved. She lay awake at night, thinking up slogans. She called the mayor. She showed up at a City Council meeting on Tuesday and got city officials involved.

A teacher at Curtis High School, Lynn Tucker came to that meeting to speak out against teenage drunken driving. But she heard Bazar talk and left the meeting inspired. Tucker got her sports-medicine club involved.

By Friday, the club had come up with a design for an Operation Hands-On sweat shirt, complete with the school's Viking mascot and a slogan: We're Here to Help.

"We're not saying this is the permanent place for the rest of their lives," said Kelli Murphy, 17, one of two student liaisons for the project. "But they can at least live comfortably until they get their feet back on the ground."

Plenty of people warned Bazar that this was too big a task, to bring as many as three families to University Place, and to convince the people who live here to find them homes; to provide them with jobs; to give them all the clothing and car rides they need.

Her husband was one of those people. A professor at Pierce College, Larry Nelthropp watched his wife work the phones last week and shook his head.

But it became clear, within a couple of days, that Bazar would not give up. And after 15 years of marriage, he knew the drill.

"You can do one of two things: ignore it or pitch in," said Nelthropp, 65. "It's easier to pitch in."

That realization kicked in Thursday night, as he headed to play golf. He stopped at an apartment complex around the corner from the couple's house, and began to chat with the property owners. A few hours later, he had permission for a family to use a $675 apartment.

Friday morning, he stood in the living room, discussing new paint and carpeting.

The couple has no idea who will use this apartment. Finding a family has proved difficult. State officials mobilized last week to play host to hundreds of displaced families but later received word that none would be coming, so the governor's office and local Red Cross are not coordinating home-finding efforts.

Bazar has heard of families who have arrived in Washington on their own and are living in cramped conditions. She is trying to track down those families.

Her husband is still wary.

"We don't want to bring them here, give them false hope and leave them hanging," he said.

Bazar has plenty of time to devote to the project. She is living on disability insurance after years of working as a loss-prevention specialist at Macy's department store (previously The Bon Marché). She said she spent too many years chasing kids around for shoplifting, sometimes getting stepped on and thrown to the floor.

But she would not show the pain on Friday, as she toured the town with city officials. Officials said the city can't give money to Operation Hands-On, but it can lend property. On Friday, Bazar saw her new headquarters: a suite of retail offices at the center of town, donated for several months.

After she handed over the keys, Councilwoman Lorna Smith had an idea: Across the street, there was an abandoned house, ready to be razed. Maybe it could become home for another family.

"We don't have a meth lab or anything in there, do we?" said Smith, peeking over the fence.

The house didn't have a furnace so wouldn't be suitable. Bazar was allowed to scavenge a long white gown, which was to have been auctioned as abandoned property. She plans to sell it at a garage sale, and make a few more dollars for the family.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or csolomon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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