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Church group travels to La. to help flood victims

January 18, 2007|by STACI CLIPP / South Hagerstown correspondent

At 6 a.m., on the day after Christmas, 15 members of Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Hagerstown, packed up four vehicles and departed for Kenner, La.

The next afternoon, they arrived at Kenner United Methodist Church, home of the East Bank Station of UMCOR's Louisiana Storm Recovery Center.

The group was immediately split into three teams, one of skilled workers and two of basically unskilled workers. The skilled team would install carpet throughout a home, finish installing bathroom fixtures, attempt to complete some drywall and finish odds and ends on an apartment, while offering support and advice to the unskilled teams.

One unskilled team completed projects at two different locations, while the largest group gutted an eight-room house in a neighborhood outside of New Orleans.

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Rita Burke, the owner of the home, is 87 years old, and a mother of nine. Five members of her family lost homes in the flood. She is currently living with Barbara, one of her daughters. They have moved three times since August 2005, first being evacuated to Texas, then moving to Mississippi, now living in Metarie, a suburb of New Orleans.

Upon hearing about the team gutting her home, Mrs. Burke exclaimed, "They traveled from Maryland? The pastor's here, too? And there are women on the team?" Although the team never had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Burke, her message of gratitude was passed on by her daughters Barbara, Kathleen and Pat. No one in the family is sure whether or not their mother will move back into her home when it is rebuilt, but the Hagerstown group is more than pleased to have helped make that a possibility.

The work was hard and exhausting, but the group worked as a team, attempting to make a difference in a few people's lives. For the most part, the people they met on the trip were gracious, helpful and full of gratitude simply for the group's presence in their city and to have an opportunity to talk with them about their experiences with Hurricane Katrina.

The team was struck by the amount of work yet to be done in the New Orleans area. In each neighborhood, one or two houses on the block are rebuilt and inhabited. Several others are in various states of reconstruction while the family lives in FEMA trailers on the lawn.

Shopping centers, schools and churches have been abandoned and whole neighborhoods remain uninhabitable. There is much yet to be done.

Before the group left for Louisiana, several team members wondered if they had the skills, strength and stamina necessary to really make a difference.

Michael VanNosdall, one member, noted in the middle of the week, "If you show up with a prybar or a hammer with a claw, there's plenty of work for you to do, even if it's just pulling nails."

Late on New Year's Day, the team returned to the Emmanuel parking lot, exhausted from several days of hard work and the long drive north. But, they said their lives had been enriched by the experience of being together, serving Christ's people in need. More importantly, they said their hearts had been deeply touched by the gracious, hopeful people they met in Kenner. They will rest for a bit, then pack the cars again for another trip south.

Team members included Kenny Anders, Joni Bittner, Steve Bittner, Becky Bruchey, Sharon Cline, Morgan Conrad, Kelly Daniels, Justin Galvin, Nancy Hammond, Ken Hawes (coordinator), Bonnie Patton, Benjamin Saxton, Greg Smith, Lauren VanNosdall and Michael VanNosdall.

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