The Sacco family of New England spent their summer vacation working with us in Lakeshore. Katherine wrote the following report for their local newspaper.
This summer, my mother decided that as a family we would make our vacation a “learning experience” and do volunteer work, something we had never done as a family before.
We headed where Hurricane Katrina had devastated parts of the United States.
Driving along the Mississippi coast just about 50 miles east of New Orleans, we found the Lakeshore Baptist Church.
Lakeshore is an unincorporated community in Mississippi’s southernmost county.
It is on a bayou of the Mississippi Sound along a stretch of coast that was the final place hit by Katrina with its 150-mine-an-hour winds.
The area endured 42 feet of flooding and property for miles was devastated.
The commercialism and economic prosperity that we consider normal in our hometowns is desperately lacking here.
It was only after driving along the coastline of empty beaches for half an hour that we found a single restaurant for dinner, incidentally celebrating its grand opening.
On a side street, we found a bank, but all that was left of it was the vault on an empty lot of rubble.
It was mind-boggling that two years had passed, and so little rebuilding had been accomplished.
The buildings of Lakeshore Baptist had been destroyed, although recovery crews found the church steeple intact in the woods across the street; it is now displayed in the front of the property.
Quonset huts house a distribution center, and quarters for the volunteers.
The main Quonset hut has bathrooms and storage, along with a large room that is cleared of volunteers’ sleeping bags twice a week for services to be held.
The kitchen is on an adjoining property that the church bought after the hurricane.
The kitchen is built on top of the concrete foundation that remains from the house, with only screens as walls for most of the building.
In the back of the buildings is a mound of dirt, obviously man-made; a member of the church explained that the debris from the local school has been buried there.
Paths of pallets lead from building to building, and we were warned not to venture into the grass because of black widow spiders.
My family joined more than 150 volunteers who had come, mainly with church groups, from all over the country to donate a week of service.
Jobs range from clearing debris from the yards of community members to helping to rebuild houses to working in the kitchen making meals for the volunteers.
Miss Bea, who is in charge of the distribution center, lives in minimal conditions herself with no air conditioning in the Mississippi heat this New Englander found unbearable.
Her own property is still littered with rubble, as it had been since she returned after Katrina.
I questioned whether my family would have had the strength to return if this had been our home.
One 90-year-old woman, dressed in straw hat, slacks and a scarf, arrived at the center with her grown daughter.
She proudly explained that she had found the scarf, emblazoned with the slogan the initials that stand for “What Would Jesus Do” or “Walk with Jesus Daily” and clearly the key piece to her outfit, right in the clothes section of the distribution.
She also reassured me that the volunteers who had come with disaster relief crews after Katrina had “saved our lives.”
It was time for the Sacco family to show its worth.
The distribution center houses food stored in sheds.
One of the shed floors had collapsed, so the first project for the Sacco work crew was to shift cartons upon cartons of carrots, macaroni o’s, and green beans to take the weight off the caved -n floor.
The ladies running the distribution center then enlisted the help of my family to make a new floor.
With the project led by my dad, whom I had never seen so much as hang up a frame on the wall, and a leader from another group, with a similar level of experience, I must admit I was surprised when an hour or two later, the shed had a remodeled floor.
It wasn’t the work of an experienced carpenter, but any help at all was welcomed and appreciated.
My father, brother and I joined other volunteers in helping to repair a house.
Sanding the ceiling gave us gray hair and sawdust in our eyes, but it was rewarding to know that we were doing this for someone else.
I felt privileged to be entrusted with helping someone to build a future.
It seemed as though the residents of Lakeshore had learned to put their faith in God that they would be provided for, and tried to look beyond their circumstances to find hope.
I left Lakeshore with a respect for residents who had returned, an appreciation for my own fortune, and a prayer for all those who I had met.
Thank you so much Katherine, for you and your family and the generosity that caring people like you continue to pour into our community.