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LIKE DROPS IN THE SEA

Every little bit helps - right? Gulf Coast residents feel a need to pitch in somehow.

Every day they watch. And they worry. And they wait.

The oil keeps pouring into their gulf, the black stain creeping ever closer, coming to claim their shores, their pelicans, their shrimp.

They're scared. And they're angry. They want to do something.

But what?

They can't strap on a mask and dive into the sea and plug that pipe.

They keep thinking there must be a way to make a difference, to make things better. Or, at least, to make themselves feel better.

So these folks set out to make their mark. Their tools? Bottles of Pepto-Bismol, a painted octopus, bags packed with poodle hair, and the best of intentions.

* * *

DAWN CAMPBELL, 39, and ANTHONY WRIGHT, 11

The shrimp Dawn Campbell's brother-in-law catches off Hernando County's coast are still pink and fat and fine, but seafood dealers aren't moving much shellfish. People are scared of gulf seafood now.

"He was working six days a week," said Campbell. "Now he's down to one. And the oil isn't even here. Yet."

Campbell, who grew up on the Weeki Wachee River, worried about her brother-in-law, about all the commercial fishermen, about her nephew, Anthony. What could she do to help them - and teach her nephew about helping others?

Last weekend, she sat at her computer and typed an ad onto Craigslist: "Hi . . . I am looking to start a fund for these people so that maybe they can at least make a rent payment or pay a bill . . . My idea is called S.O.S. (Save our Skippers.)"

She didn't get much response. But she and Anthony started talking. What if they printed pamphlets, letting people know the shrimp is caught right here, where our water is still clean?

"If we don't, all the shrimpers are going to go out of business," Anthony said. "They need our help." Now, if they can just find someone to print some fliers for free . . .

* * *

MELANIE HULING, 49

Every week, Melanie Huling and her family shave more than 100 dogs - and vacuum up enough hair to fill five garbage bags.

She used to throw it all away: thick clumps of cream poodle fur from Miss Pootie, long silky strands from the Yorkies, Jazzy and Sport.

Then she got an e-mail: Attention, groomers! A California nonprofit was collecting hair for booms to soak up the oil.

Huling, whose family owns a South Pasadena grooming business called Joy's Doggery, started spraying the shorn fur to kill fleas. She shipped it off to warehouses around the South.

"Can you imagine our dogs' hair going all around the gulf?" asked Huling. "It's out there in estuaries, keeping the stuff from seeping onto shore."

It makes her smile, she says, knowing that her poodles' fur might protect a pelican.

* * *

SARAH GAIL HUTCHERSON, 31

Sarah Gail Hutcherson created her enormous octopus painting three years ago. An octopus' pink tentacles were tangled in white boats. Was the octopus pulling down the boats, or were the boats drowning the octopus?

The idea was to show our connection to the earth. "But last week I started thinking: This piece could be so much more relevant. I just had to figure out how to do the oil."

The solution: black blocks of wood strung together. They all start at one spot, but end up spilling across the canvases.

Beginning Aug. 6, Hutcherson will display the octopus at Artful Living in St. Petersburg, where the owner is planning a show on the oil spill.

"I've been so upset about this whole thing, it's just been consuming me," said Hutcherson, a self-taught artist who manages the downtown Kahwa coffee shop. "And I always feel better when I'm painting."

* * *

LUCY ZIEGLER-TUCKER, 49, and ED SHOEMAN, 52

Ed Shoeman, a self-employed Web page designer, had never been an activist, never cared about anything enough to make waves.

But after he saw a Facebook posting about a national event called Hands Across the Sand, a protest against offshore drilling, he decided to mobilize folks in his little town on Boca Ciega Bay.

"We have a really nice beach, our own beach, and I can't imagine what would happen to Gulfport if the oil came here," he said.

He brought magic markers and poster board to a bar one night - instant publicity. He talked to restaurant owners, cooks and shopkeepers, folks at the dog park. He sent hundreds of e-mails. Bought a megaphone.

Last Saturday morning, as he and his girlfriend, Lucy Ziegler-Tucker, sweated on the skinny shore, people started pouring onto the sand. The line stretched from the rec center clear past the casino, 463 people holding hands. And when it was over, everyone kicked off their flip-flops and waded into the still-blue bay.

* * *

DAVID MURPHY, 58

Rubber gloves? Check. Toothbrushes and towels? Check. Supersized bottles of Dawn dishwashing detergent and plastic cages and plenty of Pepto-Bismol? Check.

David Murphy is ready. Whenever he gets the call, he will jump into his flag-striped VW Bug and be there for the birds.

Murphy, who is retired, volunteers at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores. He took hazmat training to learn how to work around oil but has never scrubbed oil from waterbirds.

He's worried about them. "This is just way too big for any of us to really understand."

He hopes the BP disaster will make people more vigilant about protecting their environment. Mostly, he hopes to get that call to help.

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