When Hurricane Katrina hit, many people evacuated with just the clothes they were wearing. But for many women who made it to safety, finding plus-size clothes that fit them among the garments donated to evacuees proved to be difficult or impossible.
"There was nothing," Anaice Floyd, an evacuee from New Orleans, told relief workers in Houston.
The call went out over the television airwaves from shelter volunteers, politicians and celebrities like singer Macy Gray, as well as the women themselves: Send clothing in large sizes.
Enter Charming Shoppes, parent company of Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug Plus and Catherine's Plus Sizes stores. The company is donating $2 million worth of clothing, undergarments and shoes to Katrina victims who have been washing and wearing the same clothes for weeks.
"Not every woman is a size 2, 4, 6 or 8," said Charming Shoppes spokeswoman Catherine Lippincott.
The first 18-wheeler packed with 700 boxes arrived at a shelter in Houston on Friday, and similar deliveries will arrive at other centers in Louisiana and Texas by early next week, Lippincott said. Most of the clothing is sizes 14 to 34, as well as 5x, and 25 percent is in smaller sizes from the company's Fashion Bug brand. Shoes are size 8 and larger.
According to a report released in August by the Trust for America's Health, Louisiana had the fourth-highest rate of adult obesity in the country at 25.8 percent. The need for clothing among evacuees from the state was great, and America responded -- but not everyone was accommodated.
Tanya Debose is project coordinator of the Alliance of Hope Fund of the Independence Heights Baptist Pastors and Ministers Alliance, which is assisting Katrina victims in the Houston area. She said once she realized the need for large sizes, she thought, "Oh, this is going to be a problem."
So once the truck arrived Friday, the group distributed the plus-size donations to about 100 people, and it is spreading the word to other organizations that are working with evacuees. Debose said most women received enough clothing to have outfits for five days.
The recipients have been grateful. "They basically said everyone's been just wonderful, but it's hard enough to find plus-size clothing in real life, let alone in a hurricane," Lippincott said.
Delisa Norman of Kenner, La., had not had much luck before the shipment arrived.
"It was kind of hard for me and my mom to find clothing because everything that was coming in was mainly on a smaller size frame," Norman told volunteers as she selected new clothes. "So this is a blessing."
For some, accepting the help was bittersweet as it drove home the reality of their situation. "Believe it or not, we had to make some of them take some of the things," Debose said. "A lot of them are still longing for home … they have so many needs, it's so overwhelming. They take a lot of those clothes and don't have anywhere to put them."
While deliveries are scheduled throughout the week in other locations, Debose said the Alliance of Hope has a new concern -- keeping the donations safe should Hurricane Rita hit Houston.
"We don't want anything to happen to the clothes," she said.