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The Angel Of Port Arthur

This week, in a special series, The Early Show is joining People magazine in saluting ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Monday, meet a tireless angel changing lives in a Texas town on the Gulf Coast.

Co-anchor Harry Smith reports Sandra LaDay is truly A Hero Among Us.


The phone never stops ringing. It starts at four o'clock in the morning. Sandra LaDay is a one woman charity machine.

"Hello? This is Sandra, yes," she tells the person who phoned. "So if you need an electric heater you let me know, and I'll start hustling for you one, ahead of time."

Working out of her home and a former gas station she purchased for $700, LaDay created People Supporting People, a lifeline to anyone in need in Port Arthur, Texas.

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"We get to feed so many people here because this is the poorest area of Port Arthur," she says. "I know what they're going through. It's not easy being poor because we used to be so poor that we didn't have no lights, water and gas. We had to go and borrow water three blocks from the house."

Remarkably, LaDay and her husband, Willie, survive on his monthly disability check. Willie is battling cancer. But ten years ago when Sandra LaDay decided to devote her life to helping the poor, it was her husband who built her a shelter.

She says, "Me and Willie been going together since the third grade. We've been married thirty-three years. I don't know what I'd do without Wille. Willie worked day in and day out here. Sometime, he would come at four o'clock in the evening and he would stay till six o'clock in the morning."

"I love her an she loves me," Willie LaDay says. "And we've been together forever, and we're going to be together forever."

Sandra LaDay's love seems to know no boundaries. She also manages to provide a safe haven for children, some of them abandoned or abused.

"Sometime we have nine to twenty children," she says. "We read a lot of books, and then we talk about their lives because of lot of kids want to open up."

And the affection there is mutual affection by the hugs and kisses the kids give and receive from Sandra LaDay.

On the phone, she is often moved to tears by the plight of the people Sandra LaDay is assisting. And every caller gets personal attention.

"She's always there for you when you need someone to talk to," Elsie Rodgers says. "I used to be on drugs, crack. And I was trying to quit. And she said, if you need me, call me. Don't get weak. So now I've been off crack a year and six months."

But when Hurricane Rita slammed into the Gulf Coast last month, it didn't spare the LaDays. Their home was flooded, and their two room shelter all but destroyed.

Her stockpile of clothes, books, toys, and small appliances, all ruined.

"As you can see most of it is already damaged so we have to throw it away," she tells Smith as she gives him the tour.

Her home still smells from the dampness and mold. But perhaps her biggest loss is her van. Flooded and mildewed, it sits unusable in her driveway.


"This is the van I used to pick up left over garage sales for free," she says. "And I also take children to the doctors if they don't have means of getting to the doctor. We just have to start over. It'll be alright." And she wipes her tears.

Despite all the damage and surrounding chaos, LaDay remains a woman on a mission.

"I write a lot of letters in that little bitty room," she says. "I stay up all night trying to beg for donations."

On the day CBS News cameras were at her home, Outback Steakhouse provided meals.

Mark Rule, of Outback Steakhouse says, "If a person could be an angel, I think that would be her. The things she does for people, day in and day out, is simply amazing."

LaDay is busy talking to a man who needs help. She says, "He needs a queen size mattress. He don't have none for his bed. We'll work on that today."

What she lacks in resources she makes up for in heart and boundless energy. And somehow that sustains her.

Sandra LaDay gives out her phones number on a big piece of old cardboard, "That's my home number and this is my cell number and you call me if you need something," she says.

Larry Hackett, the deputy managing editor of People magazine notes. "We've been dedicated for doing stories like this as long as the magazine is around, and it's all those kind of tales that get the people."

And although the magazine has stories of famous people and the latest gossip, he notes the magazine is "called People, not famous people. It's about all of us."

For five years, People magazine has held a luncheon inviting the people they profile to New York City. But this year, it was cancelled.

"In light of the need we thought the luncheon isn't what we want to do and instead are giving the money to the Children's Health Fund," Hackett explains. "The doctor who started 20 years ago mobile medical health units (Paul Simon introduced us to him). In the wake of Katrina they sent two units down there. They want to stay down there. The need is enormous. They treated 7,000 people and they know they will be there for years. We've given them the money from the lunch."

Learn more about LaDay's organization. Visit People Supporting People's Web site to make your donations. And to contact LaDay, send an e-mail to sandra@peoplesupportingpeople.com.

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