Help arrives

June 8-14, 2006
Help arrives
Volunteers work on removing sheetrock from the interior walls of a home damaged by Katrina
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) submitted
Whitney Point parish helps clean up after Katrina

In early April, 10 members of St. Patrick’s Church in Whitney Point flew to New Orleans to participate in efforts to help residents clean out their homes. Mary and David Black, Ken Bates, Diane Hardy, Mary Green, Joe McDonald, Mary and Bill Rock and John and Peg Orzel were joined by their pastor, Father Jerry Katz. The parishioners worked with Operation Helping Hands, a volunteer program of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

They began the work week with an orientation describing what happened during Hurricane Katrina and an overview of the current situation. They learned that any resident could apply to Catholic Charities for help. Applicants were accepted if they planned to return to their homes, they were unable to clean their own homes due to their age or a physical handicap, and if they could not afford to hire someone to do the work for them.

The typical work day was 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The volunteers brought respirator masks, gloves and work clothes with them and Catholic Charities provided white plastic worksuits and tools. While in New Orleans they lived at Camp Algiers, a FEMA-run camp for volunteers. They slept in a huge, wooden platform tent along with about 280 volunteers including many faith-based groups and AmeriCorp college age workers. They found the camp to be very clean and well equipped with showers, laundry facilities and a dining tent where breakfast and dinner were served and a bag lunch provided.

The Whitney Point volunteers spent six days removing personal belongings, appliances, plaster, sheetrock and tile floors from homes. Once the homes were totally gutted, they were then sprayed with a solution of bleach and water to remove the black mold. Several of the volunteers commented on how emotionally difficult it was to remove personal photos, books and belongings from the homes.

The volunteers were able to meet some of the residents and listen to their stories of survival and their plans for the future. The volunteers were amazed by the gratitude of the individuals they helped and the hope that they demonstrated. Many residents spoke of how they will be very content to live more simple lives in the future.

One afternoon the group met Father John, the pastor of St. Leo the Great Church. St. Patrick’s Church has become a partner church with St. Leo’s. When Father Jerry asked Father John what the needs of the area were, Father John said, “First, manpower to assist the people in cleaning and rebuilding their homes, and second, money to provide for the immediate needs of and building material for the people.” The group was able to present a check to Father John from the parishoners of St. Patrick’s.

There are miles and miles of homes still untouched and there is so much more to be done in the area that the volunteers encourage any groups who are able to work a long weekend or a week to become involved. If you need a contact person in the New Orleans area, you can contact Denise Chetta at Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities serves, employs and seeks to involve people of all faiths. They have a very organized program for volunteers and can easily be contacted at 504-895-5439 or email: dchetta@archdiocese-no.org.

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