'Katrina Kitchen' offers haven

If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to help feed 2,500 people everyday, Greg Porter has an opportunity for you.


If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to help feed 2,500 people everyday, Greg Porter has an opportunity for you.

Volunteers are always welcome at God's Katrina Kitchen, a site along highway 90 in Pass Christian, Miss. Porter, the director of God's Katrina Kitchen, said the place has blossomed into a huge feeding unit, a supply distribution site and volunteer housing. That's a long way from the small 10-by-20-foot tent he started cooking in back in mid-September.

Porter is a businessman from Evansville, Ind. Like many of the volunteers now swarming Mississippi, he was moved by the images of Hurricane Katrina he saw on TV. "I'm blessed to have the freedom of a company that is pretty self-running," he explained. "My wife and secretary keep an eye on the company while I'm down here. They knew I had to come down. I'm blessed to have that kind of freedom."

What started as Porter and some fellow employees cooking meals on a few small grills is now its own organization. Supported by churches of every denomination Porter can think of, God's Katrina Kitchen assists the affected residents in the area and the thousands of volunteers that stream through to help.

"We do food distribution, too," he explained. "We serve 400 residents each day with that. They can come in here and get food supplies as well as clothing, dishes and household starter kits."

The site also houses volunteers that staff the site and go out into the community to do home repairs. Porter said families can fill out a form when they arrive in order to get volunteer repair or rebuild assistance.

Donations are pouring in as quickly as the volunteers, he said. Food companies regularly donate truckloads of chicken and produce. Porter's home church congregation also supports the cause, raising funds and providing any additional help they can.

On a bright Tuesday morning, the parking lot of God's Katrina Kitchen was packed. A line formed outside the food and supply distribution tent, and volunteers were busy preparing the day's lunch over in the meals tent.

The organization's location is in a place of stark opposites. Sitting alongside the scenic route of Highway 90, beautiful beaches are right across the street. Yet one need only to look away from the beach to see the destruction left behind by Hurricane Katrina.

Empty slabs remain where homes once stood. Large trees are stripped of branches. Piles of debris and rubble are a common sight. Volunteers describe it like being in two different worlds - where the natural beauty of the beach and ocean sit on one side of the highway and destruction sits on the other.

But God's Katrina Kitchen stands out amongst the ruins. Porter said the residents are grateful to have some dynamic sign of life in the bleak landscape. "A lot of residents are happy we're still here helping them. It's a pivotal time. People are getting depressed."

One helpful point for the spiritual lives of the volunteers and residents are the nightly church services, he said. "We have a service every night led by guest pastors. We've had preachers from all over the world there."

Porter said the attendance at the nightly services continues to grow as well. He hopes it will have its own tent soon, no longer sharing the meals tent. God's Katrina Kitchen will also soon host concerts by Christian singers.

More volunteers are needed to staff the site, too, he noted. Volunteers help residents move through the distribution tent. A huge army of volunteers prepares each meal. On Tuesday, many college students were taking their turn in the kitchen, part of a movement of students using their spring breaks to do service projects.

"I came here to help because it's important for the community and for all the volunteer workers," said Megan Odell-Scot, a 21-year-old political science major from Kent State University (KSU) in Ohio.

Odell-Scot and fellow KSU student Hilary Yosua were busy making sandwiches for lunch that day. Yosua's reasons for coming were similar. "It's a time to really do something instead of just donating," said the 20-year-old advertising major. "And I've never done anything like this before."

Yosua and Odell-Scot weren't the only KSU students who felt that way. The two are part of a 400-student volunteer crew in coastal Mississippi for the week. They were happy to be placed at God's Katrina Kitchen for the day, saying they'd go wherever they were needed.

The two also said they would gladly give up another spring break week to volunteer again. For Porter, that's music to the ears. Volunteers are needed and welcomed, especially for this recovery that is expected to take eight to 10 years.

"I originally only came down here for a week - but now I'll stay as long as we're needed."

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