01/08/07 — MOC professors make second trip to help victims of Hurricane Katrina

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MOC professors make second trip to help victims of Hurricane Katrina

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 8, 2007 1:51 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Traveling to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina last month proved to be an eye-opener for Greg and Tyanna Day, religion professors at Mount Olive College.

While the campus minister and his wife had already made a week-long trip for the same purpose in June, they said they didn't expect the need to still be so great.

"I was really surprised that they were still gutting houses," Mrs. Day said. "A year and a half along, you would have thought they were further along. It's tremendous the amount of work that still needs to be done."

The couple, along with 13-year-old son Caleb, were part of a group of seven from Holly Grove Presbyterian Church in Calypso, where Mrs. Day is a stated supply pastor. The church committed to the project after the Days shared their experiences from their earlier visit.

That trip, Mrs. Day said, "really inspired us to want to go back. When we told Holly Grove about it, they wanted to go, too."

Arrangements were made through First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, coordinating church for that area.

"They set up a spread sheet (of needs)," Day said. "Someone calls in -- it could have been roofing, drywall, gutting a wall, landscaping. They prioritize the needs and send out work teams to those houses. Needless to say, the work list is very long."

The local team mostly worked on roofs and drywall projects.

The Days said remnants of the devastating hurricane and flooding are still evident.

"You go down to the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, there's nothing like it," Day said. "The stench was bad."

On the recent trip, they were assigned to help "Miss Ethel," a widow with five children who live in other states. Forced out of her home by the hurricane, losing all her possessions when six feet of water covered the house, she has been living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer since 2005.

"She left her home just before the levees broke when she heard on the news 'We may not have enough body bags for all of the fatalities,'" the couple said.

While there, the group learned it was Miss Ethel's birthday. She was 76.

"We celebrated in her gutted house," Day said. "We found out and got her a cake."

Their impressionable son could not help but be impacted by the experience, the couple said.

"It was interesting to watch Caleb," his father said. "He did not hesitate to work. He pitched in and worked just as hard as anyone else."

Caleb was also deeply moved and disturbed by the damage and listening to the stories of who was most affected by it, Day said.

"He was really touched when this 76-year-old woman -- we gave her a gift card before we left, she just expressed how much it means to her, and he couldn't put it into words but you could just see on his face that it really meant something to be there," Day said.

There was another similar incident involving the only other youth in their group, 11-year-old Tim Hyde, Mrs. Day said.

"He spent probably the last 30 minutes we were there talking to Miss Ethel," she said. "She was telling him basically her life story and what she went through with this hurricane.

"Before we left, he went out to the car and got two $45 gift cards he was given for Christmas. And he handed them to her."

The stories could be replicated throughout the region, with the impression conveyed that the efforts are making little difference, the Days said. But that is not the case.

"When we went down in June, folks kept reiterating, 'You all may feel like you're hardly doing anything, but everything you do, whether it's picking up trash or putting on shingles, that's one less thing we have to do later," Mrs. Day said.

"We also heard from those same people that they feel like the forgotten people," her husband added. "It was a news blurb for a short period of time. But over a year later, they're still in FEMA trailers."

The couple said they are already planning another trip with a group of 10 faculty and students during spring break in March.

"As a result of seeing the desperate need of those folks and very few people listening to their voices and doing something for them, you wish that you could spend, you know, a year down there and still, it would be a drop in the bucket," Day said. "To have the people just interact and just to put a face to a need, really made a difference to me and that's why I want to go back again."

It is their hope that others will take the time to go and help rebuild on the Gulf Coast. And for those who cannot, there are other options -- support mission teams that are in place, send Lowe's, Home Depot and Wal-Mart cards to sponsoring churches to use for purchasing building and home supplies.

Every person, every effort counts, Mrs. Day said.

"The size of the church should not determine whether or not the church decides to do something," she said. "Holly Grove has 35 baptized members. They mustered the money to pay to help us get on this trip."