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O'Neal takes action after visit to Louisiana

MIAMI -- Sweat dripping from his head as he worked in the
midday South Florida sun, Shaquille O'Neal loaded the last item
into a cavernous 18-wheel trailer and pointed to the generous
stranger.

"Give the man a hug," he urged his children, who quickly
obliged. "Tell him thank you."

For the last week, O'Neal and his wife have coordinated efforts
to help those in Louisiana and Mississippi whose lives were ripped
apart by Hurricane Katrina. And Saturday, O'Neal was on the front
line, personally accepting medical items, toiletries, clothes and
other items from those inclined to help.

The tractor-trailers hired by the O'Neal family are expected to
begin rolling Tuesday toward Baton Rouge, La. -- where O'Neal, the
Miami Heat center, attended LSU.

"I commend everybody who's helping out in some way," O'Neal
said. "Whether it's monetarily or going to the stores and buying
cases of water, bundles of ice ... there's a lot of people chipping
in, and my hat goes off to every American and non-American that's
helping."

O'Neal spent two days in Louisiana shortly after the storm
struck, returning home deeply moved by what he saw. And donating
money, he said, simply wouldn't be enough.

So for several days, he and his wife Shaunie have teamed with
the El Dorado furniture stores in South Florida and urged people to
give whatever was possible. The response, Shaunie O'Neal said, has
been overwhelming.

A warehouse commandeered to store the donations is nearly filled
to capacity. There's 10,000 gallons of water, piles of diapers,
peroxide, personal items and clothing, plus even some donations of
refrigerators and beds -- which will be used to help furnish 400
apartments the O'Neals' plan to rent for refugees in Dallas and
other areas.

"The refrigerators and beds weren't expected," Shaunie O'Neal
said. "But they definitely can be used. They'll definitely come in
handy."

The O'Neals are unclear what will exactly happen once the
trucks leave South Florida. They're finding that the process of
distributing items throughout the ravaged region is perhaps the
most difficult part of the plan.

Shaunie O'Neal said she's been told that the trucks, when they
arrive in Louisiana, will be emptied for inspection and the items
will be sent to various locations -- depending on what is needed
where, and logistics in place for the distribution. She fears it
could be a lengthy process.

"It's just frustrating," Shaunie O'Neal said. "All you're
trying to do is help and get help to people in need and you see
these people on TV just begging for help and whoever, I'm not going
to point any fingers, but ... it's very, very, very difficult."

While the 12-time All-Star was manning the dropoff location,
Edesio Biffoni, a Swiss man who works in finance and now lives in
the Miami suburb of Coconut Grove, came with his sports-utility
vehicle loaded with car seats, baby strollers, clothing, toys and
other items.

Other citizens -- all unknowing they were about to meet O'Neal --
brought cases of soap and deodorant, plus toothbrushes, toothpaste,
baby wipes and numerous other items.

"Everybody should be helping out. ... There's people who need
these things more now," Biffoni said, moments after O'Neal gave
the man a firm handshake and whispered appreciative words.

O'Neal said the damage he saw during his visit to Louisiana was
unimaginable. So he returned home "to devise a plan," he said,
and urged his friends and corporations he works with to provide
immediate help.

"I'm just doing what I've been taught by my parents to do,"
O'Neal said. "This is the right thing to do, and I'm trying to
urge other people to do it."