Lance Bass visits Tuscaloosa: “People are smiling”
Lance Bass visits Tuscaloosa
Lance Bass didn’t contribute just his own sweat to Tuscaloosa’s storm relief efforts Monday, he brought friends and family to get their hands dirty too.
The former ‘N Sync’s sister Stacy Lofton, nephew Keegan, 6, and niece Leyton, 8, all of Brandon, Miss., pitched in, along with his Los Angeles-based publicist Jaime Primak-Sullivan.
‘I wanted my niece and nephew to come because they’ve never seen anything like this,’ said Bass, who was born in Laurel, Miss. and grew up in Ellisville and Clinton. Having seen firsthand the devastation tornadoes can cause, he felt the need to come over and ‘get my hands dirty.’
Bass, who’s helped raise money for families affected by Hurricane Katrina, and improved the health care of low-income children through his Lance Bass Foundation, said the visit wasn’t inspired by Twitter or other sources.
‘I do know Charlie Sheen, yes,‘ he said, laughing, ‘but I didn’t even know he had been down here until yesterday.’
His main hope in visiting Alabama — Bass toured Birmingham’s hardest-hit areas Sunday — was that the news would continue to keep the recovery on the national radar, remind people that donations and volunteers will be needed over the long run.
Secondly, he wanted to lend some muscle to the 90-plus degree day. Last but not least was raising spirits a little.
‘My favorite thing is to see someone smile,’ he said. ‘So if someone is a fan, or just needs reminding that the world outside is thinking of them, I’m glad to be a part of it.
‘I know what it’s like, living in the South, where communities are so close, where everyone comes together to help.’
Bass and his family drove over with a truckload of diapers, formula and other practical items he found out were in need. Tuscaloosa’s own model celebrity and sometime attorney Julie Love Templeton, whose law office was blown away in the storm, joined the entourage. After a stop at Temporary Emergency Services’ warehouse, they headed over to Alberta City, where he met with officials such as City Council members Cynthia Almon and Kip Tyner, along with state representatives Gerald Allen, Chris England and John Merrill, after unloading the supplies. He smiled and greeted workers, National Guardsmen and storm victims with the same easy aplomb.
‘I think it does help to get visitors like this to the area,’ Almon said. ‘If the people’s attention stays focused on Tuscaloosa recovery efforts for the long run, it can only help us in the months to come.’
Tyner said attention-raising visits from people outside the area has already helped.
‘When President Obama said it was the ‘worst destruction’ he’d ever seen, you could hear the trucks revving up,’ he said.
The Bass gang loaded a pickup truck, driven by Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission Executive Director Don Staley, with water, meals and ice for neighborhoods around the area. Staley had nothing but praise for Bass, as he did for the efforts of Sheen a week earlier.
‘He’s a good guy. It’s not about the photo op,’ Staley said. ‘And the bottom line is: People are smiling.’
The singer, TV producer and author had thought all the photos and videos he’d studied had prepared him for the extent of the tornado damage.
‘Until you really see it, you can’t really fathom it,’ he said, noting his shock at seeing people living in half-beaten houses, places they ‘probably shouldn’t be, sitting there feeling helpless.’
Some of the residents had to be encouraged to come out and accept the goods; Primak-Sullivan helped by serving as a Spanish-language interpreter.
‘I think a lot of them are so proud, they don’t want to accept it,‘ Bass said.
He hopes to continue helping long after this visit, spreading the word of the continuing need for assistance in Alabama, including the specifics. For example, many centers had been inundated with clothing, but needed things such as diapers. Another effort of his, famousyardsale.com*, is expected to launch early next year, a kind of Ebay/social network for famous people to donate items for charity efforts.
Hank Williams Jr. is expected in town today to tour the city, just days in advance of a fund-raising concert he’s spearheading in Nashville Thursday.
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