Within an hour of church letting out August 28, 2005, my spoiled girlfriends and I gathered around my pool to tan and drink wine. The conversation reflected on the juxtaposed sun tanning our bodies, while simultaneously hiding over the Category 5 hurricane named Katrina, devastating the Gulf Coast. As one girlfriend recounted memories of the old, beautiful historic South, we got nostalgic with her as she added that her grandmother had lived in Gulfport/Biloxi until she died in 1998. This was where Katrina made landfall. The devastation seemed unimaginable. Sending money to the American Red Cross wasn’t enough; my girlfriends and I felt the pull to do more. That is when our mission began – get personal with Katrina as a team. The seven of us made a commitment right then.
We chose to be in Mississippi at the thirty-day mark – September 28, 2005. My friends put me in charge because I was an experienced team leader and between us, the most organized. I began making travel arrangements, coordinating fund raising, and meeting with spiritual leaders. Reports of the devastation continued to dominate the news stating New Orleans was terribly flooded, but Mississippi had been hit harder with high winds and storm surges as high as fifty-feet. Our instincts to go to Mississippi were correct however, with area airports closed, we would have to fly into Atlanta, Georgia, and then drive. Prayer groups prayed for us.
We were trained to help Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) victims. We learned that the thirty-day milestone is the critical time for a victim to start healing. Our mission: purchase supplies and prepare care packages for delivery. When delivering, strike up a gentle conversation with the victims and get them to start sharing their experiences.
Family and friends supported our mission, including my kids and their friends offering up their Beanie Babies and stuffed animal collections to give to the victims. Cash flowed in covering travel costs as well as supplies. We raised $12,000! This ‘poolside movement’ became something very big. We were ambassadors being sent into the heart of the disaster. In addition to cash, ladies from my small groups and prayer circles donated jewelry. A pair of earrings can change a woman’s day!
Two duffle bags contained stuffed animals and jewelry alone. There were over 300 animals and about 150 pairs of earrings, thirty of which had matching necklaces. Packed and ready to leave, our families gathered. We drove away excited while our families cried. They knew that being up close and personal would impact each of us greatly. I had no idea that the ‘me’ that I was before, would be extremely different from the ‘me’ I would be through the mission, and the ‘me’ that would return October 8, 2005.
Our friendships developed through church and bible study. Our seven-person team consisted of a relief worker, morgue employee and her sixteen-year-old daughter, pastor's wife, hair dresser, construction/project coordinator, and me – at the time, a facility manager. With the exception of the sixteen-year-old, we were each mothers.
It was late when we landed in Atlanta and picked up our rental vehicles: a box truck from Penske and a Ford Excursion from Enterprise. We confirmed vacancy at a local motel in Newnan, and shortly after check-in, we were showered and in bed. The next morning, we were happy to see a Wal-Mart and a Dollar Tree side-by-side, directly across the street from our motel. The plan: purchase supplies, organize them based on different demographics, and deliver. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
The first $1,500 shopping spree had supplies multiplying like ‘fishes and loaves.’ The floor of the sixteen-foot box truck piled three-feet high. We had paper products, toiletries, and specialty items for seniors as well as babies. Canned foods of balanced meal groups complete with beverages and snacks were in separate bags. We worked late and got