By Andrea Becklund, emergency and child protection coordinator for Christian Children's Fund
|Andrea Becklund, Emergency and Child Protection Coordinator for Christian Children's Fund |
As Hurricane Katrina threatened New Orleans in August, many families jumped into their cars with one thing in mind — to get as far away as one tank of gas would take them from the flooding and hurricane devastation in New Orleans' Ninth Ward.
For two of these fleeing families, one tank of gas carried them 200 miles away to Vicksburg, Miss. where CCF is assisting evacuee families.
"While we were traveling in the car on the way to Mississippi all the kids kept on saying was why did we leave and when do we get to go back home," said Tina, who evacuated with her children and other family members.
But there really weren’t many options for the two families, who are related. The group lived in the hard-hit Ninth Ward. Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall Aug. 29, ravaged the lower-income area after levees broke and flooded much of the city. Hurricane Rita further damaged the area.
Vicksburg food pantry stocked for distribution to evacuees.
Once in Vicksburg, the families found their way to the CCF-sponsored We Care program. We Care is a community center that assists inner city families and responds to the needs of the impoverished, disabled, elderly and the ill.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, CCF set up laundry facilities for evacuee families and provided crisis assistance.
CCF also distributed food and hygiene items to evacuees and regular beneficiaries who lost food due to power outages and damages. We Care is one of three programs CCF is working through to assist evacuees and residents in Mississippi following the hurricane.
It was We Care that helped the two evacuee families find their new home. They are now living in four small rooms filled with boxes. Beds are pallets on the floor or box springs piled with pillows. But the rooms are dry and clean.
Although appreciative of the roof over their heads, the unknown weighs heavily. Images from television and the Internet are still less than promising.
|Upon arriving in Mississippi, an evacuee picks up food supplies.|
"Everything you worked so hard for is lost," said Trenell, Tina’s sister. "It’s the not knowing that really gets to you after awhile. We just kind of go day by day. We don’t know how long we will be here and we don’t know when we can go home."
Until that day arrives, many families continue to rely on the We Care program not only for shelter, but meals and clothing. Evacuee children have enrolled in local schools and discovered entertainment through the We Care center in basketball and other recreational activities.
Missing their bunk beds in New Orleans and worry about pets often concern the children more than their temporary surroundings.
But adults have different concerns, including job placement, permanent shelter, bills and creating stability for their families.
In Tina's case, she landed a part-time job in Vicksburg, although she had full-time employment in New Orleans.
Tina and her two sisters express their relief to have a place to live, but that doesn’t make things easy. Privacy is hard to come by in the cramped quarters. Answers to the children’s questions are often more difficult to provide. And the unknown causes angst.
But the women hold on to hope for the city they were forced to flee.
"New Orleans will come back," Tina said. "It is a city like no other. It has to come back."