Pa. volunteers eager to return to storm-damaged South

December 23, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - A team of area residents, including many from Franklin County, spent a week last month hauling saturated mattresses and ruined furniture and kitchen appliances out of flood-ravaged homes in New Orleans. The mold was so bad they had to wear special masks to protect their lungs.

They rubbed Vicks inside the masks in an attempt to cover the overwhelming odor.

And they can't wait to go back and do it again.

The Rev. Meagan Boozer of Upper Path Valley Presbyterian Church in Spring Run, Pa., in the northern tip of the county, organized the team for the Nov. 5-11 trip to New Orleans.

The team members were not prepared for the extent of the devastation, but "the shock mobilized them for the physically difficult work," Boozer said.


Working through the Canal Street Presbyterian Church in downtown New Orleans, the team cleaned out five households in five days, removing the water-saturated contents and stripping two of the homes down to the studs.

Homeowners are paying as much as $1,000 per day for laborers to do what the team did for free. Team members estimate they performed $20,000 worth of work in one week, with their only investment being $4,300 for airfares and rental cars.

Boozer said that in the homes they cleaned out, she reached above her head to pull things out of kitchen cabinets, and the dishes and glasses were filled with water. "And it's disgusting water," she said. "It had been sitting there since August." Rotten food and floodwaters have been growing bacteria in refrigerators for months.

The team members, ranging in age from 13 to 74 years old, came from Upper Path Valley Presbyterian Church in Spring Run, Pa.; Amberson United Methodist Church in Amberson, Pa.; and West Shore Evangelical Free in Harrisburg, Pa.

Glovia DiSylvester of Blairs Mills, Pa., and her children, Holly Gaston, 17, and Matthew Gaston, 14, were members of the team.

"We tried to save anything that was valuable to the family in the house," Holly said. "We met one lady whose house we cleaned out. She was so grateful, especially when we found things she thought she would never see again. The experience made me think how lucky we are compared to a lot of people."

The group completely tore out the ceiling and walls of one home, Holly said.

"We didn't think we would get it cleaned out, but we got it down to the studs. It showed us what we could do."

The Fannett-Metal High School senior said she learned to "cherish family, not material possessions as much, if at all. I think the experience changed everyone (on the team). After the trip, we became like a family."

Holly said her family plans to go again to help with the cleanup.

Team member Betty Myers of Doylesburg, Pa., in northern Franklin County, said being in New Orleans "was nothing like we see on the news. It's unbelievable how much work needs to be done. These people need hope, they need friendship and they need people who will work for free. Our reward for helping and bringing a smile, if only to one face at a time, far outweighed the physical work."

An especially rewarding moment was finding a ring they all thought was gone for good, Boozer said.

"A woman who had lived in one of the houses said the only thing she wished she could find was an engagement ring she had left on her dresser. Everything was upside down. Things had floated around. We looked as carefully as we could, but we wanted to get our work done. We were shoveling out the drywall when one of the women prayed for help in finding the ring. Five minutes later, someone called from across the house, 'I found the ring.' It was an amazing miracle."

While working in the home of an 86-year-old church secretary, the team found everything in her bedroom ruined, Boozer said. "But on the top shelf of her closet, we found some wedding and graduation photos. She was very pleased about that."

While many of the team members obtained addresses of the people they helped, staying in touch is difficult, Boozer said. "Mail is a mess there. Post offices are not open, and a lot of people are not living at their addresses.

"These people need our help. They are still in shock. When a team like ours comes in, we can help get them going again. We helped people laugh, cry, talk and get to the next step. We were so blessed. We can't wait to go back."

Boozer said she is making plans for a mission trip to the same area in March 2006.

How to help

Donations for the next trip may be sent to Upper Path Valley Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 128, Spring Run, PA 17262. To be part of the team or to find out how to organize your own team, call Rev. Boozer at 717-349-2603.

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