There is something in human nature that drives us to think "hope" even as we feel despair tugging at us from behind. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina began over two weeks ago, and the nation continues to struggle to understand its devastating consequenses. These consequences have taken different shapes, from the physical destruction of property to the deep and troubling issue of enduring inequality in America. But even at this difficult time, the ways people have come together to make a terrible situation just a bit better have inspired us and fanned the tiny flame, that whisper of "hope." This blog, which ends today, has catalogued some of the innovative, brave, and generous ways that people have connected with each other--many other stories remain untold. But as the nation rebuilds, both literally and figuratively, in the wake of this tragedy, the inspiring human drive to hope will continue.
The Shoes Off Her Feet
Beliefnet reader J. Trovato writes in with her experience of how she came to take in an evacuee family. She writes, "We were in financial distress ourselves. But we had a home, a vehicle, two outstanding teen-aged children, and through our extended family members were making it month to month. On Thursday, September 1st, we drove down to the Astrodome area with all that we could pack into our car in hopes of finding a place to donate items that would reach evacuees quickly. We found a group that had organized efforts to collect and disburse items in desperate need. We worked with this group for a few hours, helping to organize and unload others' donations. While we worked, many evacuees were walking the streets, just deposited here from buses from the Superdome in New Orleans. Most had no shoes, were filthy, thirsty, hungry and homeless now.
As we worked our way back to the buses, we parked and watched. Soon, a young girl (20), carrying a 13-month-old baby, and an elderly lady (67) walked past our car toward the Astrodome. My husband got out of the car and approached them. (I stayed inside the car because I had given my shoes to someone earlier). He asked these ladies if they needed help or if they had family here and they both cautiously said, "No." He directed them to me thinking they may be mistrustful of him and I, too told them we were willing to help if we could. The elderly lady jumped in the backseat immediately. The young girl asked me if she could get some help. I said, "Of course, please get in." She did and we brought her and her baby and the elderly lady home with us that night. We had no idea what we were going to do past this one night. Our goal was to give them a shower, a meal, and a place to sleep that night. We immediately saw their cautious relief. There is much more experience with this story. Miss Carrie, Birtukan and Yosef are still with us today. We are learning a lot from one another and what it means to open your heart and your home to people in need."
A group of eight dolphins swept out to sea during Hurricane Katrina stayed together and survived, despite being unprepared to fend for themselves in the wild. So far, two of the dolphins have been rescued by authorities, and efforts are underway to rescue the remaining six. "We are just thrilled that they have stayed together during the past couple of weeks," said Moby Solangi, the owner of Marine Life Oceanarium.
Beliefnet reader Jim has reflected on change of seasons and the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, and composed a call to action that he is circulating to his family, friends, and colleagues. It reads, "I suggest that as we now change seasons we look at the clothes we have and ask ourselves, do we really wear everything we own or can some serve a better use? The Time is Now.
I also suggest a quick review of our cabinets, storage areas, garages, attics and food closets might reveal supplies we forgot were there and we really don't need any more. The Time is Now.
We all have our own vehicles of giving, It's just that more than money is needed right now. Money is always the best, but think about what else is needed in addition. The Time is Now.
Any and all Charities, Service Organizations and Houses of Worship of ALL Faiths are accepting these donations. The choice is yours but The Time is Now."
Click here for a list of 10 things you can do right now to help.
An Active Church
In a city that has seen its population double since Hurricane Katrina hit, one Baton Rouge church, South Baton Rouge Church of Christ has sprung into action. Volunteers immediately came together to provide daytime drivers for shelter residents, gather, process, and load onto trucks food and clothing donations, and personally deliver shipments of donated goods to the most storm-weary locations in New Orleans and their own area. Like so many other churches nationwide and in the Gulf Coast region, faith has translated into action for these congregants.
Beliefnet reader lynn_1217 shared a story from her South Carolina town. She writes, "There is a Methodist Church here that has a disaster relief thing all set up. They went and picked up group of 18 or so [evacuees]. They traveled about 10 miles and stopped for gas. They had brought two Blue Bird busses because they weren't sure how many were going to be in that one particular area. A man at the gas station had noticed the kind of "evacuee"-look on some of the faces and asked what was going on. The leader of our town's church told him. He said "I will pay for all of your gas!" Two Blue Bird buses at around $3.30 a gallon.
But that is not all! It was late, and these people hadn't eaten a hot meal in over two days. The pastor took them to a close-by restaraunt and told them to "order up" whatever they desired. Guess what...that same man who paid for the gas was already there! He came over and of course sat and talked. He picked up ALL the meals. With the people and church members, that was 27 meals! But..that was not all. He also said seeing as he seemed to be at the right place at the right time twice for these people, he cut a check to the church for $2500 dollars to help our efforts to get these evacuees on their feet. God is SO very very good.
Giving What We Can
Beliefnet reader Boadicea writes about her idea of how to help hurricane victims despite her lack of money to donate. She writes, "I have a huge stash of leftover yarn (yep - I'm a knitter). So I dug out a teddy bear pattern I found and I'm knitting up teddies (they're approximately 9" high and more like a pillow). I have a friend who owns a bookstore, and I'm going to ask if I can set up a display whereby people can give a $5 donation toward the "bear necessities" and get a knitted teddy bear for themselves. All donations will be given to either Salvation Army or American Red Cross. Any teddies not sold I intend to pack up and mail off to wherever to be distributed to children of those families who survived Katrina."
A Spiritual Calling
Associated Press writer Rachel Zoll describes the motivations and heroic actions of several chaplains and clergypeople who are lending their hands in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. From offering to pray with victims to taking out garbage and changing the diapers of the elderly, those on the ground continue to go beyond traditional ideas of "ministry." The storm, she reports, is also bringing together communities in new ways--one church that has become home to several evacuees held its first wedding ever for a black couple.
Strength in Numbers
Scroll through the posts on the Presidential Prayer Team's website and you will see "Stories of God's People Responding" in every state in America. From assembling "hope kits" to send to evacuees to adopting families into their own homes to raising money over the radio air waves, the list catalogues responses by people of faith to a national disaster.
Muslim Support on the 9/11 Anniversary
They said that the date was just a coincidence, but over 2,000 Houston Muslims volunteered on September 11 to serve food and otherwise help those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Groups wanting to volunteer were drawn by random lottery and assigned dates--the Houston Muslim community was chosen for Sunday. In addition to getting to serve the poor and homeless, the volunteers were excited to share with the larger community that Islam is a religion of caring and love, not extremism and violence. "If today not only happens to be a day where we are feeding people and helping people and doing our Islamic duties ... but at the same time it also presents an opportunity to dispel myths about Islam and terrorism, then so be it," said Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the board of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
When Your Only Prayer is to Help
Beliefnet reader Sylvia writes in that she was feeling helpless watching Hurricane Katrina coverage on television. She writes, "I said a prayer, 'Lord, I am giving money, but I want to do something personally. Send me someone to help.' About 15 minutes later my phone rang. My neighbor said, 'We are helping 75 evacuees who are moving into a camp near Pell City, Alabama. Do you want to help?' 'YES,' I said. My husband and I moved into high gear. We gathered up linens, pillows, blankets, comforters, hair dryers, hot rollers, toiletries, make-up, soap, tools, clothing, 15 pairs of shoes, etc. I am giving Wal-Mart gift certificates to hand out as well. It was such a joy for us to be able to share what God had blessed us with to help someone who had nothing."
A Remarkable Journey
Syndicated columnist Lisa Earle McLeod, writing on Beliefnet, details the harrowing escape from New Orleans undertaken by single mother Mabel Brown and her family. Now safely sheltered at McLeod's home and the homes of several of her neighbors, Brown's family will resettle in Atlanta. McLeod describes Brown as a living inspiration:
"I wish I could say I swooped in like a white knight and saved Mabel, but I didn't. All I could do was use my Internet connection and my phone to run interference for the most resourceful woman in America as she saved herself--and 18 members of her family."
Saved By His Cat
Bill Harris can credit one living being for the fact that he is alive today: Miss Kitty, his gray-and-brown cat. The Slidell, Louisiana resident was in danger of drowning in his flooded condominium when, he says, Miss Kitty led him to the chair that he stood on for three days until he was rescued. When Harris was taken to a hospital for treatment of his chronic kidney condition, Miss Kitty was feared lost. But the MSNBC news blog reports that the cat is in the hands of animal control and is soon to be reunited with her owner. A devout Baptist, Harris feels that his life was perhaps spared so that he could start a ministry. The name of the ministry? "Wild Bill and Miss Kitty."
Hurricane Katrina's evacuees need more than access to the latest news on television, according to executives at the Sky Angel television networks. "These families are also in need of the positive, uplifting family entertainment that Sky Angel delivers that they can enjoy together," said CEO Rob Johnson in a statement. Accordingly, the company, which airs Christian inspirational programming and family programming, is delivering free service to a hurricane shelter in Ft. Worth, Texas, in the hopes that storm-weary evacuees might enjoy something positive as they wait to see where life will lead them next.
The Hero Within
Beliefnet blogger Jesse Kornbluth posted this story of a group of heroes who have slogged through dangerous waters to rescue needy strangers:
"There were two guys with their airboat flying down Napoleon, then returning 30 minutes later with boatloads of people. I asked Tim what their deal was. He said they just showed up on Tuesday and had been living in their truck ever since. He said they rescued more than a thousand people the first day by themselves. When I asked them about it, between gulps of Miller Lite, they just said "No big deal" and kept on rescuing people. A news crew wanted to interview them. They said they had too much to do to talk. I think they just didn't have time for anyone that wasn't willing to get wet trying to help --- wet from that filthy, stinking, muddy water."
A Boy and His Dog--Reunited
Snowball, the fluffy white dog who was wrenched from his young owner's arms when the boy had to board an evacuation bus, has reportedly been found, MSNBC reports. The dog is one of over 3,000 animals that have been rescued into the Louisiana animal shelter system. The boy is taking the happy trip to Gonzales, Louisiana to reunite with his furry friend.
Recovering the Holy
The Sikh community of New Orleans, after a 22-hour rescue operation, successfully recovered its sacred scriptures from its house of worship, which had been badly damaged in Hurricane Katrina. The group had previously petitioned the federal government for help in reaching the scriptures, called Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and meanwhile had opened a shelter for 1,300 storm refugees. After not hearing back from the government, the community went through the process of getting permission to undertake the mission themselves. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji was brought out intact, to the joyful welcome of area Sikhs who had lost so much else.
Children Lost--and Found
The Los Angeles Times reported this amazing story out of Baton Rouge: "In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard, this group of refugees stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader...They were holding hands. Three of the children were about 2 years old. A 3-year-old girl, who wore colorful barrettes on the ends of her braids, had her 14-month-old brother in tow. The 6-year-old spoke for all of them, and he told rescuers his name was Deamonte Love."
The children, who were feared to have either lost their parents or been abandoned in the storm, have been reunited with their parents after days at a Baton Rouge shelter. It seems that with the water rising and no food left, Love's parents had made the wrenching decision to put the children in a rescue helicopter whose pilot promised to return for them. It never came back. The 6-year-old took care of the others until they were found. Derrick Robertson, a Big Buddy mentor, said he doubted the children would be traumatized by the events. "I think what's going to stick with them is that they survived Hurricane Katrina," he said. "And that they were loved."
Making a Difference
Beliefnet user angelinbecoming posts that her church, Coral Baptist Church in Coral Springs, Florida, has found ways to contribute to the Katrina recovery effort beyond purely financial contributions. She writes:
"We have RV's that are basically huge kitchens on wheels, that travel to places all over the world where needed. The volunteers in these RV's make and produce 25,000 meals a day for all the victims, for all the rescue teams and provides them with all 3 meals for the day.... They also asked the entire church to come together and provide supplies for people such as generators for those that can afford to do so and for the rest of us we are asked to put together hygiene kits. These kits included anything from hair combs, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, famine products, wet wipes, tissues paper, trash bags, flash lights, batteries, candles, matches, hair bands, razors, shave cream, bug-off wipes and chap stick. I got together with a group of women yesterday to help them put together tons of these hygiene kits. I was so excited to see it come together. I dropped off two large tub full to the church. When I got there I saw many, many other's from members who also provided. The truck was filling up fast.
I pray all the time for God to use me for his good. Just use me where I am needed. God has placed this on me to be able to help out with my hands, my mouth and my heart. What an awesome feeling in such a sadden time."
Remembering the Smallest Details
Residents of Lafayette, Louisiana, which was largely undamaged by Hurricane Katrina, have mobilized in an inspiring way to help the victims of the storm. Barbara Hoffpauir, a Lafayette resident writing for Heartwarmers.com, describes the generosity of residents of time, money, and supplies. Hoffpauir's brother Henry and his wife Betty provided bedding to displaced persons seeking shelter. Betty said, "I went through and washed all the sheets to make sure they smelled nice. One lady said, 'This smells so good. It smells like home'."
Leaving on a Jet Plane
NBC News anchor Brian Williams reports on his blog that he was moved to see the Baton Rouge tarmac crowded with private jets that had been sent to evacuate families from the storm-ravaged region.
The Church Lives On
Because of Hurricane Katrina, members of St. Mark's Church in Gulfport, Mississippi no longer have a building in which to worship. But, as they showed at a Sunday prayer service amid the rubble, the members of the Episcopal congregation are still a cohesive religious community. The Very Rev. James Bo Roberts, St. Mark's rector, told the more than 50 parishioners who had assembled for the service, "You are the spirit of St. Mark's Church. It's you who have to stand for Jesus. It's you who will bring us back as we once were."
Random Acts of Kindness
Diana Cantello, a Gramercy, Louisiana resident whose home was not damaged by Hurricane Katrina, performed a random act of kindness when she picked up Dmitri Kachkov and his family from the truck stop where they were staying as refugees from the storm. In addition to simply housing the family, Cantello helped Kachkov's mother celebrate her 69th birthday by baking her a cake and giving her small presents. "My mother never expected such kindness, especially during this disaster," Kachkov told Reuters.
Returning the Favor
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that his city is all too familiar with living through a crisis. Accordingly, New York City firefighters and policemen are being dispatched to New Orleans to lend their expertise and support to a part of the country that supported New York four years ago in their hour of need.
Schilling Pitches In
Curt Schilling, the Red Sox star pitcher, has volunteered to house a family of 9 for one year. At first arranging anonymously for the Fields family, who lost their home in New Orleans during Katrina, to travel to Boston, Schilling and his wife met up with the family in Atlanta. "When we realized how many people had nowhere to go, we didn't just want to make a donation," Shonda Schilling told The Boston Globe. "We decided we wanted to bring an entire family here and put them up."
Lift Every Voice and Sing
As help finally began to arrive in New Orleans over the weekend, the weight of the trauma began to set in for many evacuees at the Convention Center. But city resident Anita Roach, instead of joining in the weeping, stood among the others and began to lead them in gospel songs of praise and gratitude. The New Orleans Times-Picayune described her as "a beacon of beauty and strength against a backdrop of death and despair."
A Boy and His Dog
Stories like this one, about a young boy whose dog Snowball was ripped from his arms as he boarded a bus to safety, have captured the attention of animal lovers and advocates nationwide. A website has been established, KatrinaFoundPets.com, in the ongoing search for Snowball. The site also hopes to reunite survivors with pets collected by police, and to match pets with foster "parents" in the wake of the storm.
Organizing the Good Will
Many websites, including craigslist.org and others, have provided venues for people of good will to offer to house those displaced by the storm. A new website, KatrinaHome.com is attempting to streamline these offers into one place. With over 500 homes offering space to over 2,100 people so far, the website also provides tips for refugees on how to safely choose a place to stay, and for hosts on safely welcoming refugees into their homes.
Praying Under the Trees
St. Clare Parish in Waveland, MS will be holding Mass this Sunday, but not in the parish building, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Instead, reports Catholics for Faithful Citizenship, the congregation will gather under the trees for religious services. The organization is providing an online resource for Catholics affected by the storm to find each other, share resources, and worship.
Defraying the Costs
Among the many costs of Hurricane Katrina is the inability of many families to make timely bill payments while struggling to rebuild their lives. Accordingly, Ford Motor Credit Company is offering up to two payment deferrals for storm-affected customers who have financed vehicles with Ford. Additionally, Fannie Mae is offering a mortgage relief program for those who are facing hardship because of the storm.
There's No Place Like Home
Families from across the country have advertised on Nola.com that they have space in their homes for the newly homeless. Some offers also include job placements for specific professions like physical therapists, while one mother of a 3-month-old infant offered to take in a baby whose parents have either disappeared or are temporarily unable to take care of their child.
More Schools Join the Effort
Duke University has joined with numerous other colleges and universities by offering admission to up to 75 displaced students who meet certain criteria. Further, the university will provide the students with housing at the homes of faculty, staff, or local alumni.
Jesus: Still Standing
The New Orleans Times-Picayune blog reports that some are claiming "divine intervention" in the fact that amid total devastation around St. Louis Cathedral, a statue of Jesus remains standing after the storm. The only things missing from the statue are the left thumb and index finger, which area residents are working together to save.
Back to School
Several colleges are offering admission to students displaced by Hurricane Katrina. In Texas, where thousands of storm refugees are arriving, Rice, Southern Methodist University, and Texas Christian University are working out individual policies on how to make room at their schools for displaced students. In Florida, Florida State University, Florida International University and other schools are offering in-state tuition and other relief efforts to get displaced students into the classroom.
Also, public school classrooms are opening their doors to students in Texas and unaffected areas of Louisiana.
Making Room at the Inn
People who live near the storm-ravaged areas but were spared its wrath are opening their homes to those who were left homeless by Katrina. "I have space and people need help. That's just it," Fredia Rainey, a west Georgia resident, told CNN. Additionally, the online marketplace craigslist.org features posts from people offering free or cheap space everywhere from Oregon to New Hampshire to those who might not be able to return home for months.
Celebrities Get in on the Act
Celebrities are putting their clout behind the nascent effort to raise money for hurricane relief. Jerry Lewis' Labor Day Telethon will raise money for the cause, and the actor Morgan Freeman, who lives in the Mississippi delta, is planning an online charity auction to raise money. In addition, artists including Winton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., and Tim McGraw will perform in a September 2 "Concert for Hurricane Relief" to be broadcast on the NBC network.