By Tammy Sue Struble
Cherry blossoms only bloom for two weeks, and to the Japanese, it symbolizes the fleeting nature of life. The loss of those blossoms through a large part of Japan this year is a connection Vonnie Mikkelsen can’t help but make as she explains why the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce wants to assist victims of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan March 11.
The chamber is joining with area schools and businesses who want to help out the earthquake victims in Japan. Mikkelsen was quick to reach out, since she had lived and worked in Japan for 16 years. Her first two years there were in northern Japan where a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit near the coast on March 11, causing destructive tsunami walls of water.
Although Vonnie has lost touch with most contacts in the Sendai area that was hit, she still has friends in Tokyo. Since the earthquake, the Japanese needs are changing every day, “Now, they are very worried about the (nuclear) reactors.” The epicenter of the earthquake was right off of the shoreline of Sendai, where most of the nuclear reactors are located.
The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce sent out a press release on March 16 “calling on citizens of Zephyrhills and the surrounding areas to see themselves in their role as global citizens by offering humanitarian aid to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami…”
“The awareness issue is very important,” Mikkelsen explained.
“We don’t intend to send money. We can increase awareness through schools and such. We saw Haiti and Hurricane Katrina (devastation) in our own backyard. We can turn the TV off…or set an example to our young people.” Mikkelsen and the chamber are working with Principal Steve Van Gorden of Zephyrhills High to get students involved. Care packages and even messages from our own kids will let the victims in Japan know we are here.
“It will be appreciated. The Japanese culture has much gratitude,” Mikkelsen said. “Being good to your neighbors next door, even if that’s around the world,” will show we care.
The chamber discourages people from bringing in items like blankets and clothes. “We will find specific things they need by contacting schools and groups. We will send something that represents goodwill, even messages,” described Mikkelsen.
According to a press release, the chamber plans to find a local, trustworthy contact in the area to distribute the care packages once they are prepared. It is also calling on the community to assist in the effort as a gift of goodwill from the people of Zephyrhills to the people of Japan.
It continued, “Whatever you can do, will go a long way,” Mikkelsen said. “Consider your business making a matching donation — you set the limit. Teachers and club leaders can have your kids or classroom, or members of your club, draw a picture or write a message to send. You can offer your time to put together care packages. Everyone can help get this message out to friends, co-workers, clients and service organization. Your participation in this community effort is what counts.”
To contribute funds to the Zephyrhills – Japan Relief Fund make checks payable to the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce. Indicate on the check that you would like the donation to go to “Japan Relief.” Bring the check or mail it to: Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, 38550 Fifth Ave., Zephyrhills, FL 33542. Donors may also call the office with credit card information (813) 782-1913. Cash will also be accepted, but it is recommended that it be hand-delivered to the chamber office.