calendar January 29, 2009 in Disaster Response

On the Gulf, much work to be done

A work team from Christ Lutheran Church, Kulpsville, is back at Camp Victor in Ocean Springs, MS, this week, continuing the more than three-year long process of rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. Check out this article for journal entries from Lois Kadel, which will be updated as we receive them. (Most recent entries on top.) Keep checking back for new entries.

Thursday, January 29

Spills, Chills and Thrills

Spills… Mr. Billy’s kitchen is 35 years old and it reflects the history of a family of four,  filled with knick knacks, pictures, postcards, calendars, along with all the usual kitchen paraphenalia.  Mr. Billy allowed us to move alot of his possessions to another room in the house, however, he didn’t want us to move his very large, long kitchen table and the large freezers and other appliances.  Three of us working in tight quarters was certainly a challenge, and shall I say a recipe for disaster!   Despite trying to be very careful on the ladder while painting I moved to quickly and knocked a quart of latex semi gloss paint over onto the potato bin and all over the floor, just barely missing coating Walt West with a new beautiful shiny exterior!  I know have a beautiful new nail polish on my nails (fingers and part of my arms!).  In a few more days I should be paint free.

Chills… The weather forecast predicted a sudden 20 degree drop in temperatures and everyone in the region was preparing.  Mr. Billy spent a good portion of his afternoon splitting wood and stocking his wood bin.  It looked as if we weren’t going to escape the wintry blast.  But down here in the south, a 20 degree drop in temperature puts us in the balmy 50s during the day.  Although Mr. Billy had his wood stove ablaze, us Northerners found the climate quite tolerable!

Thrills.. Walt, Charlie and I went to see Sonny and Rayne on Wednesday night after work.  They prepared jambalaya, barbeque ribs, coleslaw and blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.  The dinner was delicious and it was a thrill to be sitting in the refurbished kitchen.  We looked at the walls we had taped, spackled, sanded and painted, the hardwood floors we installed, the antique hutch which survived Katrina and been reclaimed from the trash heap and we witnessed a revival of spirit and life which just three years ago seemed impossible to imagine.

Last evening we completed our work at Mr. Billy’s.  The kitchen is now repaired with a new paneling replacing damaged sections, a fresh paint job, a new piece of vinyl flooring cut in to replace the bad spots by the stove and side door, new knobs and hardware on the cabinets to replace the bent nails which served as inventive substitutes, and new curtains to brighten up the room.   We left Mr. Billy walking around his kitchen surveying his new surroundings, shaking his head back and forth and smiling a wonderful smile.  He said to us as he looked at the pile of pictures, dishes, spices and other kitchen "stuff" on the table, "Now I can manage this."  After three long and frustrating years, his home was restored!  What a thrill to be a part of his journey.  Now on to another home and another family who have been waiting for three years….

God’s Peace,

Tuesday, January 27

Blisters and Blessings

It’s been a beautiful day on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 75 degrees, blue skies and balmy breezes.  However, tomorrow a cold front is coming our way and we are expecting rain.  We enjoyed sitting outside during our lunch break today, for tomorrow we’ll be back to the kind of temperatures we are accustomed to in January!

We returned to Mr. Billy’s home today. Charlie installed a bedroom door,  worked at shoring up a very, very unstable kitchen cabinet and countertop and installed baseboard and trim in the kitchen.  Walt and I sanded the paneled kitchen walls, baseboards, cabinets, and trim, applied Kilz primer to the ceiling, and painted the ceiling.  The work was hard but very satisfying as we watched a 35 year old kitchen (painted in bright yellow and dark brown) begin to come back to life and light as the clean white paint brightened the room and Mr. Billy’s outlook!

I worked on rolling out the ceiling paint and stood with my head tilted back and my arms up most of the day.  I am feeling knots in my muscles and tightness in my neck that will probably not feel much better tomorrow after sleeping in my dormitory bunk tonight! I’ve rubbed blisters along the sides of my thumbs and my feet are aching from climbing up and down the ladder for the last two days.  It may sound as if I’m complaining, but I really am not.  Yes, my physical body is feeling the strain of hard work, but my spirit is lifted by watching and hearing the stories of transformation and restoration.  We talk to volunteers who come back year after year, month after month, even staying for extended blocks of time, just to help strangers – now dear, dear friends.  We reconnect with families we’ve helped on previous visits.  Charlie, Walt, and I will be eating dinner tomorrow night at Sonny and Rayne’s home in Pascagoula.  Sonny is making us his special barbeque!  On Friday night we are going to the Ulrich’s home for a home cooked Southern style meal.  Both Walt and Charlie (and Charlie’s wife, Bette) helped rebuild their home. We’ve made important connections here and have come to love these people and we share their desire to see all homes and lives on the Coast restores.  We came to Mississippi to be a blessing and found the blessings were returned to us tenfold!

This morning, while waiting in line to get breakfast (eggs, bacon, and grits!) I read a tee shirt worn by a volunteer from Habitat for Humanity (now working together with Camp Victor Ministries).  The words, first spoken by Mahatma Ghandi, jumped out at me from the bright blue tee, "Be the change you wish you could see in the world."  So often we see the injustices, we bemoan the unfairness, we judge the incompetence, we curse the calamities, and do nothing to change the situation than offer lip service and condemnation.  The change we seek is right in front of us.  When we look into the mirror, it is right there. 

Charlie, Walt, and I are experiencing the blessing of being part of a movement to change things.  We follow the thousands who came before us and we lay open the path for those who will follow.  We came with the blessings of our congregation and community who sent us to the coast with $4,500 raised from baked sales and gifts in the offering plate, and solicited from co-workers and friends.  These gifts will provide both blisters and blessings as they are transformed into acts of restoration by volunteers yet to come.  We send our thanks and gratitude to you all!

God’s Peace,


Monday, January 26

Yes We Can

We’ve returned to Ocean Springs, MS, arriving on Sunday evening just in time for orientation.  Lots of new faces here along with new procedures, schedules, and a new DVD telling the Christus Victor/Camp Victor story.  Although much has changed, alot as stayed the same.  Charlie Hoffman, Walt West and I were dismayed to hear the sobering status of the recovery along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Of the 80,000 homes damaged or destroyed, only 25 -30% have been repaired or rebuilt.  Close to 50,000 families are still negotiating the hazardous and convoluted maze known as disaster relief.  Case workers log thousands of hours cataloging the progress (or lack thereof) of all the applicants seeking assistance.  And still they wait to be made whole.

But there is a glimmer of hope.  Suzie Harvey, who is now responsible for operations at Camp Victor shared with this week’s crew of volunteers some wonderful news.  One week following the election of Barack Obama, his transition team called Camp Victor and asked, "What do you need to get the job done?"  Suzie responded, "36 million dollars!"  Just imagine the power of volunteers equipped with funding and the support and endorsement of the President of the United States.  The thought alone makes the words "Yes We Can" sound less like a campaign slogan and more like the promise of change for which all of us have been praying.

Little People, Small World

Camp Victor is a converted warehouse which houses thousands of volunteers annually.  It is also a community of believers who share their faith openly and quite often creatively with their colorful artwork,  observations and musings, autographs and handprints, and favorite bible passages painted on every and any flat surface in the camp.   Last night, while sitting in the dining hall I saw the name Roloff painted in bright orange and red paint near the bottom of the wall right next to the dining hall doors.  I looked closer to see what was written there and saw five handprints and signatures, Amy, Jeremy, Zach, Mollie and Jacob.  The Roloff Family of TLC’s cable reality program Little People, Big World had volunteered at Camp Victor!  The Roloff’s are a family from Oregon.  The parents, Matt and Amy are little people.  They have four children – Zach and Jeremy, their 18 year old twins (Zach is a little person, Jeremy is not), 16 year old Mollie and 10 year old Jacob.  Everyone except the Dad, Matt Roloff,  spent time this summer visiting disaster recovery sites along the Gulf Coast from Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana.  Film crews followed them from site to site, documenting for the millions who watch their weekly program, the vastness of the devastation and the urgency of the continuing need for help.

Today, Charlie, Walt and I worked at Mr. Billy’s home in Vancleave, MS.  Mr. Billy is a 74 year old gentleman who lives alone.  His wife of 47 years died in July 2005, one month before Hurricane Katrina hit.  Billy, still mourning the death of his wife, just didn’t feel like leaving his home, despite the warnings to evacuate. He stayed in his home along with all of his wife’s belongings, pictures of his wife, children and grandchildren, and held onto dear life as all nature raged around him.  In the midst of the hurricane his home was blown off of its foundation and water poured through the roof.  FEMA awarded Billy $546 to rebuild his home.  He had no insurance and did not receive any state grants.  For three years he has lived in his terribly damaged home, trying alone to fix what he could.  Just this summer Billy began to receive the help he so desperately needed from Camp Victor Ministries.  Volunteers came, week by week and began the long overdue repairs.  Amy, Jeremy, Zach, Molly, and Jacob Roloff spent a day at Billy’s home along with five camera crews.  Billy’s story, along with the stories of others along the Gulf Coast will be broadcast on TLC this spring.  The efforts of all the volunteers, the stories of folks like Mr. Billy, will reach a nationwide audience – people who need to know that all is not well here!  Watch for Mr. Billy’s story on March 23rd and follow the Roloff’s witness to what so many of us already know.  The Gulf Coast needs our help and they need it now.  We are approaching the 4th Anniversary of Katrina and the misery must end.  All of us, congregations, individuals, faith based groups, government agencies. television personalities, the media – all of us, must recommit to this region and all those who wait for us to answer the call. 
I watch Little People, Big World whenever I can and was just amazed that we are working at the same house the Roloff’s worked on this summer.  All of us volunteers try hard to share our experiences here with our families and friends back home.  We give temple talks, write journals, show DVDs, videos and slide shows.  We might reach 50 to 100 people through our efforts.    The Roloff’s will be able to reach so many more people than any of us could ever imagine.  They will help re-focus attention and shine the media spotlight on folks like Mr. Billy.  Millions will be brought into the reality of Mr. Billy and others like him.  Little people, small world – all of us working together!

Prayers for Tony

Many volunteers from the Southeastern PA Synod know Tony Gagliano, the Construction Manager at Camp Victor for the last few years.  Tony was recently diagnosed with an aggressive malignant brain tumor.  He had surgery last week and will soon begin radiation and chemothery.  Your thoughts and prayers for Tony, his wife and children are greatly needed.  A benefit fund has been set up at the Hancock Bank of Ocean Springs, MS, located on Washington Street, Account # 043897664.  Tony recently left Camp Victor, prior to his diagnosis, for another job.  He has not been at his new job long enough to have health insurance benefits.  Donations to the benefit fund will help defray his medical expenses. 
God’s Peace,
Lois Kadel