From the emails and voice mails:
WINTERS OF CONTENT When disaster strikes and people are in need, there are two basic ways to help. You can write a check, hoping the money will benefit the victims.
Or you can do what Henry and Susan Winters, along with a dozen others from Modesto, did after superstorm Sandy hammered the eastern seaboard and particularly the New York area: go there as an American Red Cross volunteer.
For the Winterses, it was their first major disaster event together. Susan went to Colorado after last year's fires, but Henry didn't make the trip. This time, they went in tandem in December two months after the Oct. 29 storm sent a surge of water six to eight feet high that destroyed home after home after home.
Little had improved by the time they put their boots on the ground. They were assigned to a meal truck, loading containers full of food into the truck each morning and then driving through the sand-covered streets of the Breezy Point and Rockaway Point neighborhoods at the southernmost tip of Long Island.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2007, the poor were most affected because their neighborhoods were in the most vulnerable areas of that city.
After superstorm Sandy, though, the well-to-do folks who might have sent checks to Katrina relief funds found themselves lining up for food and water, as well.
The force of the surge ripped some of the homes off their foundations, Susan Winters said.
"Homes floated away and ran into somebody else's or disappeared completely," she said.
The surge turned the streets and alleyways into beachfront property too full of trash and glass to play in, and too soft to drive on.
"One day, our front wheels went axle-deep into the sand," Henry said. "Fortunately, our rear wheels were still on the pavement."
They distributed about 200 meals each day, and made many friends in the process.
And they were impressed not only by those who volunteered a college professor from Grand Rapids, Mich., who spent his winter break volunteering but by the spirit of New Yorkers.
"There were American flags everywhere," said Susan, retired after careers as a speech therapist and school secretary. "Every time I'd hand out a meal, (victims) would say, 'Bless you, bless you, bless you.' I felt like the most blessed person in the world."
"It's about the personal satisfaction," said Henry, a navigator on B-52s before retiring from the Air Force and then spending 15 years teaching math at Modesto and Oakdale high schools. "You don't have to do everything for money."
BOOK REPORTS For the past quarter century, the Writer's Workshop has been one of several elements of Modesto Junior College's Modesto Institute for Continued Learning.
Once led by local author Martha Loefler, the sessions are conducted by Shirley Irving. For many years, the workshops consisted mostly of women.
This quarter, two firsts for the group: Men now make up roughly half of the memberships. And three members Jay Mirza, Pamela Atherstone and Jan Sharp have published their first books.
"Each of them was developed within the class environment with class members regularly critiquing our efforts and encouraging our progress," Sharp said.
A retired architect and Turlock resident, Mirza detailed his family from the time he was a child in Iran to the present in "An Assyrian Dream. The Mirza Family Story." Contact him at (209) 668-7147 to obtain a copy.
Atherstone wrote "Like Footprints in the Wind, a Generation Lost," a novel based on her family's escape from Stalin's Siberian prison camps after World War II.
Sharp wrote "Déjà Vu and Fritters Too." Her novel involves a Marine who becomes a police officer after returning from Afghanistan, fighting gangs in West Berkeley.
Their books are available on Amazon, Kindle and Nook, or directly from the publisher, Outskirtspress.com.
Unrelated to the MJC group, Patterson resident Marcus D. Thomas recently unveiled a novel titled "Silent Hope The Remarkable Courage of a Teenage Mother." It's available online through Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other venues.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.