October 5, 2005 – As for this last experience, where do I begin?
On Sunday, October 2, 2005, the junior youth group of St. Magdalen's Church in Flemington, New Jersey run by Sr. Lorraine had a donation drive for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in Hancock County, MS. Approximately 80 children and their parents collected, sorted, boxed, bagged and labeled two truckloads of donations. A parishioner donated the cost of renting the two trucks and another parishioner donated $600 towards the gasoline. The Flemington Department Store very generously donated new clothes for men, women and children.The outpouring of support from members of this community and surrounding communities has been quite humbling.
I went back down South for the third time, but this time a friend asked if she could join me. As far as I was concerned, the more the merrier because the people of Kiln, Pearlington, Waveland and Dedeaux, Mississippi need our help and will need it for some time to come. The effects of Hurricane Katrina are just beginning.
We left for Meridian, Mississippi on Monday October 3 at 11pm and reached our destination on Tuesday afternoon at approximately 4pm. The journey going down South is always exciting because the anticipation of knowing that you are going to help so many people is running through your blood. Lisa and I checked in with the people at the Key Chapter of the American Red Cross in Meridian in order to see if we could do anything for them, or if they wanted us to bring anything down to the Coast for them. After getting settled in and getting our last good meal and night's sleep, Lisa and I headed for the Gulf Coast. After a three-hour drive, we reached our destination via I-59 around three in the afternoon. The difference in the appearance of the interstate was obvious to me having been there before. The forestry was being cleaned up and the interstate was becoming well manicured again, 13 miles at a time.
Our first stop was Pearlington, Mississippi. Pearlington was one of the communities that I worked in during my first trip to the Gulf Coast and was badly devastated by Hurricane Katrina. When you meet the people of Pearlington, it is no wonder why you would desire to return. They are beautiful, warm and welcoming even in the face of adversity. It is very humbling to serve them.
Lisa and I went door-to-door offering clothes, food, cleaning supplies, bedding, toys, books, and whatever else we had. If we didn't have what was needed, we took notes and will get these people the things they need to get through their days. The children were excited to see toys, stuffed animals and books because these are their very first gifts since the hurricane destroyed their worlds. As we helped one family gather the items that they needed I pulled a stuffed animal rabbit from one of the bags filling the trucks and gave it to a young girl. It just so happened that she lost her favorite stuffed rabbit to Hurricane Katrina and when she saw this rabbit, her eyes lit like 100 candles on a small cake.
To the people of Pearlington, it was the little things that mattered. Everyone we helped said the same thing. They could not believe that I had returned and they were grateful for the mere fact that people cared and showed up to help. A.J., his wife Marilyn and his family continued to take care of their 83-year-old neighbor, Mr. Miller, whom they had saved during the hurricane. Mr. Miller was doing well and now that he had some blankets, a pillow and some clothes, he would rest more comfortably. We then ran into Donald and Lindel Dawsey. They were taken back by the fact that we were there; let alone offering them whatever we had in the trucks. They called their daughter-in-law, Angel, who lived down the block with her children and together, they took what they wanted and needed.
In typical Pearlington fashion, the hospitality didn't go unreturned. Angel gave me a CD with songs about Pearlington and the destruction it suffered. Donald and Lindel made sure that Lisa and myself had cold water to take with us. How great is Pearlington? Visit and you'll find out.
As Lisa and I continued, we met so many wonderful people and rekindled the friendships that began that 7th day of September. Diane of Highway 604, along with her son Marty, shared how all of their animals survived. The roosters, chickens, and dog all treaded water until the hurricane ended. The resiliency of the people in Pearlington is evident in each smile we saw.
While going door-to-door, we were approached by two women who were also Red Cross volunteers but on the financial side. Ann and Valerie wanted to be hands on and help people directly. So on their day off, they found their way to Pearlington and asked if they could trail with us. These two women accompanied us to the home of Karen and Glenn Bazor. This husband-and-wife team with three beautiful children was referred to us by a neighbor named Beth (she received everything she needed too) who was concerned for their well-being. Lisa and I made sure that this family had all the clothes, toys and books they would need to help them through until they could start to get a handle on their world. While Karen was still able to work, her husband Glenn became Mr. Mom and cared for the couple’s children. Nicky, Celane and Tater (his nickname) were not only appreciative; they were very generous with hugs for Lisa and myself. After reaching out to the Pearlington community, Lisa, Ann, Valerie and I had dinner at the shelter before saying our good-byes and moving on to Gulfport for the evening.
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