No one has put their money where there mouth is like Frank Stronach, the Canadian billionaire who pledged to pay for the relocation of 300 New Orleans residents to the most sumptuous and unusual of places: Palm Beach.
The owner of Magna International, the entertainment and auto parts empire that recently gave outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci a job, has ponied up for an “improbable dream [that] involves airlifting evacuees from the devastation of New Orleans to the pampered world of Palm Beach, Fla. — a vision that involves rich American whites from gated communities opening up to desperately poor American blacks and even includes the construction of a new mobile-home community in Louisiana for more than 300 victims of hurricane Katrina.”
The 73-year old Stronach came to Canada from eastern Europe dirt-poor and now controls a $20 billion empire. As the Globe reported, “Last Thursday, Mr. Stronach decided he could no longer wait for slow governments and large organizations to act on the tragedy unfolding along the Gulf Coast. He knew from his own life experience what it was like to be desperately poor and hungry — ‘Those things are burned right into the soul’ — but could only imagine the danger that the survivors were facing.”
On Monday, as soon as two US Airways jets carrying the evacuees hit the tarmac in Palm Beach, a town where average incomes exceed $109,000 per year, “We had psychiatrists putting on bandages,” said one organizer. “There were Palm Beach women doing the cooking. The clothing they brought to hand out you couldn’t believe –Holt Renfrew stuff. They brought enough for 10,000 people, let alone 300. I felt like doing a complete wardrobe change myself. It was the most unbelievable experience. You would have thought there was no colour at all. I feel like I’ve just witnessed a miracle”
“Helping people, feeding and shelter, that’s the easy part,” Stronach said. “The challenging part is what do we do to get them back on their feet again.”