Source: Sherman Publications

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Family reaches out to help Japan

by CJ Carnacchio

May 18, 2011

Oxford residents Dakota Peel (left) and her brother, Nick Peel, model the "Help Japan" t-shirts they’ve been selling to help victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Japan is more than 6,000 miles away, but that great distance doesn't lessen Oxford's willingness to help those in need.

Just ask the Peel family.

So far, the Oxford family has collected almost $3,000 in donations for the Red Cross to help victims of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that devastated parts of Japan on March 11. Between them, these natural disasters killed more than 18,000 people and left 400,000 living in shelters.

"It's exactly what I expected from Oxford," said Tami Peel, noting the money is going to be matched by the Nissan auto company, which her husband, Dave, works for as a manufacturing program manager. "It didn't surprise me. Oxford's got that heart. It's a small community, but they're willing to dig deep when people are in need."

"People pretty much had nothing in a matter of 30 minutes. I can't imagine losing your whole house and your neighbors," Dave said. "I think anything that they get, they will appreciate it. It will be a help."

The family's been selling "Help Japan" t-shirts ($10 each) and wristbands ($3 each) at Oxford schools. Four dollars from every shirt sale and $2 from every wristband sale goes to help Japan.

"My daughter came up with the Help Japan t-shirt idea and my son looked on-line and found the wristbands to help raise money for those affected by this epic natural disaster," Tami said.

The daughter, Dakota, is a fifth-grader at Lakeville Elementary, while the son, Nick, is a sixth-grader at Oxford Middle School.

Between the high school and middle school, they've already sold about 200 wristbands and nearly 200 t-shirts, Tami said.

"I just thought it was going to be something within their class," Dave said. "I had no idea they were going to take it this far. I'm pretty impressed with them."

"I'm proud to be from Oxford and really grateful to the community for supporting something like this during our own rough times," Tami said. "It takes a lot to reach into your pocket when you don't have much there."

This week the t-shirts and wristbands will be sold at Oxford Elementary School.

Tami also has plans to, at some point, sell them at Kingsbury Country Day School and in the Lake Orion school district.

Downtown Oxford's Creative Embroidery (10 E. Burdick St.) has been making the shirts for the Peels.

"I wanted a local vendor, not someone off the internet," Tami said. "Ashley (Kiplinger, the owner) has been incredible. She was right on board and has helped me tremendously."

The shirts are still for sale at Creative Embroidery.

The Peels have close ties with Japan. Not only does Tami's husband work for a Japanese company, the family has actually lived in the Land of the Rising Sun. They lived there from 1995-97, then two years ago went back for an 18-month stay.

Dave was working in Yokohama, Japan when the earthquake and tsunami hit. Fortunately, he was about 150 miles from where the tsunami struck, however, the 50-year-old building he was in was rocked by the earthquake.

"It started really gradually, then it just increased in intensity," Dave said. "From where I was sitting, I could see throughout the factory and things just started shaking like crazy. It sounded like being in a trash can with people kicking it.

"They hit the alarms and yelled for everybody to get under their desks. I reached in my drawer, grabbed my hard hat and waited underneath my desk. All I could think about was it's an old building, if some big i-beam comes down, the desk is not going to save you at all."

Dave said the quake lasted about 1-2 minutes. "As soon as it stopped, they evacuated everybody and we had to line up out in the street," he said.

Fortunately, Dave came through the experience uninjured.

It took him about four hours to get back to his hotel because the trains were shut down and all the roads were "packed with people."

Because Japan is prone to frequent earthquakes and the area he was in didn't suffer any major devastation, Dave didn't understand the magnitude of what had occurred.

When he reached his hotel and saw all the e-mails from people worried about him, he decided to call his family and let them know he was all right.

Initially, the worst part of this whole tragedy for Tami and her children was not knowing Dave's fate.

"For eight agonizing hours, we did not know if (he) was alive or not," Tami said. "We drove to school in complete silence."

Tami and her kids couldn't reach Dave by phone; they had to wait until he was able to call them.

Hearing his voice was a "total relief" to Tami.

"My husband's my best friend and he's the leader of our family. I was so glad he was safe," she said. "We couldn't help but think of how many other families did not get the call that we got about their husband, their dad, their grandfather. That's when we realized how lucky we were."