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Churches shelter families

In the lobby of Christus Victor Lutheran Church, doctors and nurses are giving vaccinations and assisting anyone in need.

BY HEATHER MOYER | OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. | September 30, 2005

"To sit down at lunch with the survivors as they share, I didn't know it would have such an impact on me."

—Carrie Buppert

In the lobby of Christus Victor Lutheran Church, doctors and nurses are giving vaccinations and assisting anyone in need.

The church is serving as a shelter, a donations distribution site and a health clinic in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. With the help of Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster Response in Mississippi, support and supplies are arriving daily, said site manager Amy Bearson.

"We're also sending out work teams to help clean up debris and remove damaged sheetrock for those who don't have insurance," said Bearson, who is a member of the church.

Many families are still staying at the church because their homes were destroyed or are too damaged to live in. Bearson said the church is grateful for all the outside help they are receiving because most of the parishioners experienced significant damage themselves.

"What do we need? We need hands down here," she explained. "We can't have people here doing it because they're so traumatized and dealing with their own loss."

She said those coming for help are going through the regular stages of grief, and many are now just recognizing the reality. When Hurricane Rita was threatening, the emotional effects surfaced even more. "You could see the shock on everyone's faces - it really tore at your heart," Bearson said.

And so the outside help is arriving. All the medical staff in the lobby health clinic are out-of-towners donating their time.

Around the corner from the lobby is the fellowship hall - which is now serving as the cafeteria and as a storage warehouse for all the donated goods - close to 40 volunteers from the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) are busy making lunch or sorting linens. Others are out back of the church handing out supplies to residents who drive up for assistance. And still others load up a van each day to travel into hard-hit neighborhoods seeking out anyone who cannot come into town for help.

For volunteer Carrie Buppert, the experience has been emotional and fulfilling. "To sit down at lunch with the survivors as they share, I didn't know it would have such an impact on me," said the Maryland resident. "I will come down here to volunteer again if I can."

Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster Response (LEDR) is lending its help to Christus Victor and the entire hurricane-devastated region. The organization's "to do" list is growing and the hope is to be a driving force in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

"We're trying to plug the holes right now," said Bob Tribble, an Lutheran Disaster Response in Georgia leader now assigned to the entire Gulf Coast. "If there's a need, we try to find a solution. We're trying to match up the offers with the needs."

Tribble said they are seeking out warehouse space in the area which would be used not just as a supply distribution site, but also as storage space for tools and building supplies. "We're figuring on this recovery lasting six to eight years."

The incoming help is a blessing to Bearson, who said she does not know how her little church without a pastor would have managed without them. "It's overwhelming sometimes, I get teary-eyed just thinking about how much people care," she said. "It's hard for us to accept being a mission area to these other churches and agencies. All denominations and faiths are helping us - even synagogues and an Islamic group."

But to LDR officials, Christus Victor is the upstart church that began the process itself before getting any outside help. "This little church without a pastor started all of this," said Hal Shope, volunteer development liaison in Mississippi for LEDR. "We're using them as a strong base and will move west with our recovery efforts."

For Shope, having a strong church like Christus Victor already established in such a hard-hit region will only help them as they move into even more devastated regions. "Entire cities and small towns are gone," he explained.

He too has been impressed with all the interdenominational and interfaith cooperation thus far in the response, noting that some of the medical team volunteers in town recently were Muslims and Jews. "They said this is when we all meet together," said Shope. "There's something very holy about that."

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