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'There is so much need'

Rusty lost everything he owned to Hurricane Katrina.

BY HEATHER MOYER | DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. | October 4, 2005

"They were donated by the women's group at the Presbyterian church in Raymond, Mississippi."

—Myra Zavatchan

Rusty lost everything he owned to Hurricane Katrina. Standing in the lobby of Diamondhead Baptist Church, he pointed to a dog tied up outside.

"That's my dog - and we've been living at the church for the past 30 days or so," he said.

For residents in Diamondhead, Rusty's story is familiar. The community, which sits only about one mile from St. Louis Bay on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, suffered from devastating flooding and wind during the hurricane. Dozens of people lost their homes.

"We had members lose everything," said Sharon Keith, financial secretary for Diamondhead Baptist Church. Some are living in tents now on our front lawn. Nobody thought the bayou would back up like that, it wiped out the whole southern part of the town. There are areas south of us with nothing left - not even debris piles. Things are literally just gone."

And so the city's churches are working together to provide relief for the many in need. Some are offering shelter, most are offering supplies, and others are helping to manage volunteer work teams.

Over at Diamondhead Community Church, a church member is rummaging through the freezer figuring out dinner for the volunteers staying in the church's fellowship hall. That normally might be an easy task, except that the church member has more than one hundred casseroles from which to choose.

"They were donated by the women's group at the Presbyterian church in Raymond, Mississippi," said Myra Zavatchan, a member of Diamondhead Community Church. Raymond is more than a three-hour drive from Diamondhead. "One of our church members mentioned to them that we were looking for volunteers to help with the cooking - and so they got together, made all these casseroles and sent them down."

The casseroles are now stored at the church and within the freezers of many of the church members around town, and are just one example of the generosity coming from across the country.

Lenita Cuervo, also a member of Diamondhead Community Church, is heading up the church's response. She said her church started up the relief before any outside help arrived, sending out their own members with chainsaws and food to clear paths and get food to those who were in need. Thankfully, she added, the outside help arrived within a week. "Presbyterian Disaster Assistance sent in truckloads of generators, chainsaws and more," she said. "Then the volunteers started arriving."

A team of volunteers from Presbyterian churches in North Carolina is in town this week over at the Orange Grove Presbyterian Church - a small country church adopted by Diamondhead Community Church long before Hurricane Katrina. The North Carolina volunteeers were setting up one of many of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) volunteer villages. The tent city will have shower units and all the facilities necessary to house volunteers over the long recovery process along the Gulf Coast.

"We're preparing this village to hold between 90 and 120 relief workers," said Barry Wynkoop, a volunteer from Washington, D.C.-based National Presbyterian Church. Wynkoop is leading the construction of the Orange Grove volunteer village.

For the volunteers at Orange Grove that day, the opportunity to serve was something they could not pass up. "I was frustrated with what I saw on TV," said Walt Beckwith of Westminster Presbyterian Church. "Our church got a call to come down and help, and I wanted to be a part of it."

To Dwayne Sturgis of First Presbyterian Church, the need for volunteers will not stop anytime soon. "There is so much need," he said. "It's incredible how much destruction there is. There is lots of work to be done."

And with that, the volunteers went back to work, only this time they received more help for removing the many downed trees around the Orange Grove church. A huge dump truck towing a backhoe arrived from Billings, Montana, where a Presbyterian church had decided to send it as their gift of assistance. All along the sides of the truck were hand-written greetings and best wishes from the church members to their neighbors down in Mississippi.

Back in Diamondhead, Lenita Cuervo and Myra Zavatchan are discussing the outpouring of support from nearby and from far away. Pausing in front of a long list of the volunteers who have come through Diamondhead already, the two say they fully agree that God puts the right people in the right place at the right time.

"It's amazing how things work out," said Cuervo.

Zavatchan nodded. "It's been awesome."

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