The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
December 12, 2005

Mrs. Bush's Remarks After Attending a Toys for Tots Event in Louisiana
Celebration Church
Metairie, Louisiana

photos  Photos

11:12 A.M. CST

MRS. BUSH: How are you all? This is a very fun occasion. The Toys for Tots, which all of you know, is a Marine initiative and it's especially important this year on the Gulf Coast since so many children lost all of their toys. Santa's Workshop will be traveling up and down the Gulf Coast. I think it comes back here, if I'm not mistaken, on Christmas Eve to New Orleans. So this will be a chance for families to make sure they have at least one present for their children. Watch the Toys for Tots, find out when they're going to be in your neighborhood, and take the children there to get a gift.

Laura Bush and children from New Orleans neighborhoods react to a downpour of fake snow flakes, Monday Dec. 12, 2005 at the Celebration Church in Metairie, La., during a Toys for Tots event.  White House photo by Shealah Craighead I want to just say again, I know how difficult it is here in New Orleans. The President has been meeting with the Mayor and other people as they try to determine what's the best way to go forward. But I want parents to remember that they're role models for their children, and if they can act like they can handle these difficult times, their children will be able to, too. And especially for the holidays, for Christmas, try to have as much normalcy as you can. Try to have your favorite family traditions. I know a lot of people lost their ornaments, but they didn't lose their favorite traditions, and they'll still be able to fix some of their favorite Christmas foods. So I want to encourage families to do that. Your children will be a lot happier if you can have -- try to have a normal and happy celebration with as many family members as you can be with.

Children want to be with their family members and they get a lot of emotional support from that. So be sure to try to have family members around to support your children for the holidays.

Q The President is in Philadelphia today talking about Iraq, and Congress is about ready to go home for the Christmas break. Folks down here don't have a break. What assurances can you give families out here today that the White House will continue to make New Orleans' recovery a priority?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think everyone knows that that is the President's goal. He made a commitment to the people of New Orleans in Jackson Square and I think people know that.

As all of you know, the budget bills are going through to see what sort of money can be allocated or be appropriated by the United States Congress. Don Powell is here working with FEMA money and trying to make sure that goes out as it should.

But also, we know that it's going to take a long time. We know it's going to take a long time to build levees. We know it's going to take a long time to build houses, for people to have housing again. And so I want to encourage families to try to settle where they are, to try to make the best of what they have right now, but with the goal of moving back to New Orleans, because I know most people want to do that. New Orleans is their home and New Orleans is one of the most fabulous cities in the world, and certainly one of our most important United States cities.

Laura Bush talks with children from New Orleans neighborhoods as she sits with Santa Claus, Monday Dec. 12, 2005 at the Celebration Church in Metairie, La., during a Toys for Tots event.  White House photo by Shealah Craighead I also know that people are coming to New Orleans, tourists are coming back, and that's really good news for the city. But it's going to take a long time. And so I hope people will make their long-term plans, but realize that it's going to take a long time.

Q Is the President still committed to Category 5 levees here in New Orleans? And if so, how much political capital is he willing to spend to get it?

MRS. BUSH: All of those decisions are being made about what sort of levees need to be built, what's the safest for the people of Louisiana. And those decisions are still being made. But the President is committed to the rebuilding of New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast. And you all know more than anybody else how huge the devastation is. I think a lot of people in the United States don't realize how long the devastation is, from New Orleans all the way to Alabama. And it's a long-term rebuilding situation. But the President is committed to it, I know your local officials are committed to it. And so we just have to work. It will be a lot of work, but we can do it.

Q -- biggest hurdle, Mrs. Bush?

MRS. BUSH: Well, there are many hurdles, but certainly housing is a major hurdle. I know there are a lot of jobs available, but workers don't have a place to live. And so in the immediate -- the first step, obviously, is to try to get as much housing as possible so that workers can come back and have jobs and do the rebuilding. And of course, that's temporary housing for many people. Until the levees are built, I know a lot of people won't want to build permanent housing until they're really sure that permanent housing be safe in a flood situation.

Q -- clear understanding around the country as to exactly what it means to have a good levee system? Or do you think that because they live in a place that's above --

MRS. BUSH: No, I don't think people around the country have a really clear understanding of how big the devastation is, how huge the devastation here, how long-term the rebuilding will be, starting with levees, and then houses.

And of course, when we rebuild housing, we want it to be safe, we want to build houses that will withstand other hurricanes, that will withstand other storms. Everybody wants that, everyone who's going to live there and everybody who's -- who all is associated with the rebuilding. But that makes the rebuilding that much more difficult.

Thanks, everybody, and best wishes to all of you for a happy holiday. And I hope you'll encourage all your listeners and readers to try to have a very, very normal holiday for their children and do the best they can for their children over the holidays, because holidays are such an important family time. And families have suffered such loss. But I think if we can get our families around us for the holidays, and especially around children, we'll be able to give them the emotional support they need to withstand the difficulties.

So thanks, everybody. Bye, good to see you all.

END 11:18 A.M. CST

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