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Hands follow heart to help hurricane victims

January 17, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Feeling compassion for those in need and responding to that need has always been a part of Jennifer Drake's feelings of responsibility for the world in which she lives. Until recently, that response usually has taken the form of writing a check.

But in December, Drake decided it was time to put her pen away and get her hands dirty - literally - as she volunteered for a church-based mission trip to the Gulf Coast to aid hurricane victims.

Drake, who is studying to become a deacon at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Lappans Road - the church she has attended since 1997 - said one of her classmates already made a trip to the Gulf Coast.

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"Spiritually, I decided I needed to go," Drake said.

With only a four-day window to sign up, Drake managed to hook up with a Baltimore group of Episcopalians and Lutherans.

"I e-mailed Pastor Anne Weatherholt and she told me she had just learned of this group," Drake said.

The only one from this area in this group, Drake was financed on her mission with $300 contributed by St. Mark's.

Drake left Dec. 11, flying out of Baltimore, and returned Dec. 17.

Her odyssey to Camp Coast Care was based out of a school gymnasium in Long Beach, Miss., where she slept on an Army cot and ate three meals a day there. The rest of the time, she and the other volunteers dealt with as many as 2,000 people a day who came there needing food, hygiene items, clothing and medical attention.

Rich or poor, all ages, all genders and all nationalities came to the center because all were in need of the basic necessities of life, Drake said.

"All were very appreciative, too," she said.

For two days, Drake and members of her team worked out of the gym, handing out supplies and unloading trucks when they arrived.

"Then we went to a house that had been destroyed and we cleaned out the lot so the homeowners could have a trailer moved in," Drake said.

While that work was being done, the residents - an older lady and her disabled husband - stopped by to watch the work.

"We collected stuff we found of hers and gave it to her when she came," Drake said.

Two other needs were addressed, including one home where a couple in their 70s had crawled into the top of their A-frame house and huddled with their dog for 12 hours before being rescued.

One memory Drake came away with was that the people affected by the late-summer hurricanes will need help desperately for years before they will recover from the devastation. For that reason, she hopes to return, despite the fact she has no more vacation time.

"My whole perspective has changed about what is important in life," Drake said of her trip to the flood-ravaged South. "I'm frustrated, but I know there will be work for me to do when I do return."

Drake, 44, works for the U.S. Department of Justice in Rockville, Md. From 1983 to 2001, she was a case manager at the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown. Her husband, George, works at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, also south of Hagerstown.

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