Cigar Aficionado

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita forced Americans to look into the heart of disaster. There were no pretty pictures, just the glimpses of suffering of millions of people who were displaced, some forever. You couldn't help but be moved by the desperate situations of so many people, and millions of us responded with donations to relief organizations. The generous response of so many raised all our spirits, and reminded us of what it means to be an American.

Our company contributed to the American Red Cross, and also matched employee contributions. We know people who offered their homes to their friends displaced by the storms. Across the country, schools, both secondary and university level, opened their doors to students who had to evacuate as their fall terms began. And many companies sought to find temporary employment for their workers in other areas of the country.

But it should be of particular interest to Cigar Aficionado readers that the two hurricanes affected between 55 to 60 tobacconists. The Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (RTDA) quickly offered a $5,000 interest-free loan repayable in late 2006 to any members who needed assistance in getting their doors back open. According to RTDA, it's been difficult contacting all its members in the affected areas. About 25 percent of the affected tobacconists have been in touch with the RTDA, and five have accepted the assistance.

As anyone who smokes cigars knows, nearly all tobacconist shops are small, family-owned businesses that work hard to bring you the best cigars in the world. They are not multimillion-dollar corporations with the wherewithal to dump money back into a destroyed business to get it on its feet quickly. It's a tough process, especially in the aftermath of a storm like Katrina, which not only wiped out entire communities, but ensured that normal business may be months in the future.

Of course, we know that many of our readers were also affected by the horrific storms. Your lives have been turned upside down, and we know you are struggling to put things back together. But when life begins to return to normal, we urge all of you in a storm-affected area to start frequenting not only your tobacconist, but all your local businesses. That will be a small step toward helping them get back on their feet. It's one of the obvious things to do, but we often overlook our regular patronage as a key element in helping a business get back up and running.

We also urge you to remember the charitable organizations that are helping the displaced. Their work won't be done for a long time, maybe even years, and they will continue to need donations to keep operating at full speed to help the Gulf Coast get back on its feet. Whether it's the American Red Cross, Americares, UnicefUSA, they are all organizations that are working hard to help the victims rebuild their lives. Check out some of the charity registries on the Internet, and find one that you feel comfortable supporting. The most important thing is to give what you can.

It's the least we can do. Give back a little of the bounty that we all share.