October 24, 2007 / 2:44 AM / 12 years ago

California evacuees unwind with yoga, Kosher food

By Dana Ford

SAN DIEGO, Oct 23 (Reuters) - As emergency shelters go, the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego might get a five-star rating, with yoga and acupuncture for stressed-out adults, clowns and candy for bored kids and even Kosher meals.

The stadium, best known as home to the National Football League’s San Diego Chargers, was converted this week into an emergency evacuation center accommodating 10,000 people forced from their homes by wildfires scorching the county.

City and state officials and legions of volunteers running the center did their best to provide not only for evacuees’ basic needs but also lifestyle perks designed to make the Golden State’s displaced denizens feel more at home.

Food and water were in ample supply, with tables lining the stadium’s main concourse laden with cold cuts, breads, condiments, cookies, fruit and coffee. Dinner included roast beef, fresh vegetables, salad and rice.

Jewish evacuees were able to abide by their dietary restrictions by following a sign advertising Kosher food.

"You hear all the horror stories from Hurricane Katrina, but it’s nothing like that here," said Linda Leonik, 22, who was evacuated with her husband and their 6-month-old twins from the upscale community of Rancho Bernardo.

"We have all the resources we need. I’m so surprised how well people pulled together for this."

The almost festive mood was a far cry from the overcrowded, squalid conditions, despair and fear of violence inside the New Orleans Superdome following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, where evacuees spent several days without adequate food, water or sanitation.

While some of New Orleans’ poorest residents sought shelter at the Superdome, many of the evacuees taking up residence at Qualcomm came from affluent suburbs of San Diego.

Clowns made balloon animals for youngsters, people dressed as "Star Wars" troopers gave out candy, a ventriloquist performed with puppets and volunteers painted children’s faces. Other children spent time in a play area stocked with toys crayons and coloring books.

Acupuncturists set up a makeshift clinic, and signs guided stressed evacuees to yoga and meditation sessions offered elsewhere in the stadium. Crisis counseling and massage therapy also were made available.

Organizers did their best to keep evacuees plugged in electronically, with TV monitors put up throughout the facility and a cell-phone charging station on the concourse.

The stadium was so well stocked by nightfall on Tuesday that San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders issued a statement saying individual donations were no longer necessary.

"There’s been such an overwhelming response from the community. There are people here in immediate need and there are people here to give. I’m proud of my city," said Tony Greco, a San Diego native and sergeant in the U.S military.

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