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'We gave them hope'

Hundreds of roofs in Bogalusa are crushed or split because of fallen trees.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BOGALUSA, La. | October 6, 2005

Hundreds of roofs in Bogalusa are crushed or split because of fallen trees. The streets are lined with a mess of tree limbs, pine needles and stumps.

Hurricane Katrina devastated the eastern Louisiana town of 13,000 people, but help is available. In the parking lot of the First Baptist Church, crews from the Illinois unit of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief are preparing a meal for residents that evening.

The church is also serving as a shelter, and Bob Jackson said his crews have been busy doing a little bit of everything for disaster relief in Bogalusa. "We've served more than 256,000 meals since we arrived," said Jackson of Illinois Baptist Relief.

"We also have a child care team and a chainsaw crew here as well."

Jackson said hundreds of Southern Baptist volunteers from all over the country have been volunteering in Bogalusa, and they have all been needed.

The Bogalusa community welcomed the Southern Baptist volunteers with open arms. Jackson said some of his crews were the first disaster responders to even enter the city after the hurricane. With that, he said, the city officials and police have supported them ever since, even sending out extra patrol units to help guard the volunteers' equipment.

For the members of First Baptist Church, the volunteers were a godsend. "They said we gave them hope," Jackson explained. "They've rallied around us to help, too. They've been very gracious and have supported us. They even come in every day and feed us lunch."

The needs in Bogalusa will remain for some time, he noted. Inside the church, residents are still stopping by daily to fill out a request form so that the volunteers can help remove trees and debris from their yards.

"We just found a 93-year-old woman and her handicapped son living in a home with a tree through it," said Jackson. "They had no one else to help them. Some of these homes are so messed up that people don't know what to do."

He added that the crews will put tarps on roofs when possible, but the focus right now is just getting trees off the homes. The teams completed more than 400 jobs as of last week, but the list is growing daily. Looking at his "to do" list, Jackson said there are at least another 670 jobs waiting.

The teams are concerned with the emotional and spiritual health of the residents as well. To check in with homeowners and the community in general, Jackson said each crew is equipped with a chaplain. A prayer team also ventures into the neighborhoods each day to bring residents water and to talk if anyone needs to. Those teams, Jackson explained, also help locate other families in dire need of assistance.

The volunteers will do everything they can for the city, even if it's something seemingly minor. With a laundry and shower unit out behind the church, Jackson said not only do his crews use those, but others are welcome to them when needed. The volunteers even wash a load of clothing from the city police force every once in a while.

And that is just the spirit of the recovery, Jackson pointed out. "There's something everybody can do."


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