Faith coalitions aid evacuees
Churches, mosques, and synagogues have stepped forward to provide Katrina evacuees the kind of assistance that government can't.
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"I know things are gonna turn around because God is in control of our lives, and our steps are ordered by Him," Pamela says. "It doesn't always feel like that or look like that, but it is."Skip to next paragraph
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For now they're grateful to be moving to Newton, where Temple Emanuel is poised to help them, Ms. Kuschak says.
An African- American congregation in Newton has been deeply involved since the week Katrina made landfall. Myrtle Baptist Church was holding dialogues on race relations with First Unitarian at the time, and they changed their agenda to discuss what they could do. First they sent two trucks packed with food to Hattiesburg and Picayune, Miss. (The city and local residents pitched in with donations). People gave gift cards to Wal-Mart and other discount stores worth about $5,000.
Later they joined a Salvation Army program, giving Christmas gifts to children in 500 families who had lost everything. Along with toys and clothes, "we ended up having 83 new bicycles donated," says the Rev. Howard Haywood, pastor.
"Something that was so important was the contact," he adds. "One of our members teaches school, and her third-grade class wrote letters to kids down there - that was a big deal!"
Myrtle Baptist also helped five evacuee families get settled. "The biggest challenge for people is will they decide to stay here forever or not," Mr. Haywood says. Many don't want to take children back while things are bad.
Mary Jackson will stay for good. The New Orleans retirement home she lived in has been condemned, and all her belongings were lost. Fortunately, when the storm hit, the septuagenarian was in the Northeast visiting a white woman she had raised as a child. "I was getting ready to go back, and then couldn't. Reverend Haywood and the girl I took care of got together and found me this place," says Ms. Jackson. "I am very happy here."
The Gillards aren't sure what they'll do ultimately. But Daniel, a Louisiana native, says, "I really like the weather here. I don't see any sense in running back too fast - into another storm season." He's lined up a couple of job interviews now that he knows where they will live.
Faith groups across the US are "staying the course" in efforts to aid people along the Gulf. From Oakland to Kansas City to New York, they're sending packed 18-wheelers south and providing resources to rebuild houses of worship. Some have joined with community organizations this month in a new National Alliance to Restore Opportunity to Gulf Coast Survivors, mounting a lobbying campaign to press for faster government action.
"The government has spent a lot of money to house people temporarily, but little has been done to enable people to come back and be residents of their city," says Greg Galluzzo, director of the Gamaliel Foundation, a national network of 1,600 congregations. "There's no coherent strategy for the displaced to benefit from the reconstruction through jobs or housing or paying off their mortgages."
One concern expressed by churchgoers and evacuees is that local homeless people need help, too. "We want to get settled so we can help somebody else - we don't want to always be on the receiving end," Pamela says.
For some, the hope is that lessons from this disaster will bring long-term changes. "This has absolutely had an impact on our churches," says Haywood. "People who don't usually get together and talk or even nod their head to one another worked side by side. If we had this attitude all the time, what a different world it would be."