Within the first year of Hurricane Katrina hitting in August of 2005, over 550,000 people volunteered and donated their time and resources. These people may have been affiliated with groups such as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, religions organizations, or individuals.
Groups Traveling to the Gulf
A couple from Cape Coral, Florida , John and Mary Mueller, gave up much of their time to volunteer. While their life in Florida was very comfortable with a large home, family, and many friends they decided to become volunteers. In March of 2006, 7 months after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the couple moved into a 208-square-foot trailer located at St. Bernard Parish in which they were directors for volunteers coming through the Church of the Brethren Disaster Ministries.(USA Today)
After six months time, the couple became long-term volunteers. Long-term volunteers were and are crucial due to the fact that they are experts in directing volunteers to work sites in need, providing appropriate resources and teaching the ways in which construction must be done. After receiving much aid from volunteers after Hurricane Charley, a 2004 hurricane that hit Florida, the Mueller’s felt the need to give back their time.
“It sent shivers up and down my spine that all these strangers were coming to help…How could we, after seeing that, not come to help? Our place is here,” John stated in an interview with USA Today.
“We’d love to have more room, of course, but God wanted us to be here… And that offsets so many of the little things. Of course, we get tired of fighting with the shower curtain in our tiny shower. But I have my wind chime, my cooking utensils, my photos. And that’s enough,” Mary states as she explains the importance of the couple’s volunteering.
“Living here has really given us an appreciation for what we have. I challenge anyone who thinks their life stinks to come and live in a FEMA trailer for a year. That’ll give you some perspective,” says John about his time spent living in the midst of it all in Louisiana.
Jeff Munson, a physics teacher and Director of Student Life at Kents Hill School began doing construction with Habitat for Humanity in 1988. For the last decade, all of his work has been done through the United Methodist Church either here in Maine, in Louisiana, Mississippi, or New York. Although he began with only a few basic skills, in 2005 he was able to construct his own house based on the skills he learned while doing mission relief work.
He has become most affiliated with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), a group that began working early after Hurricane Katrina to set up recovery stations. He is now a qualified Team Leader and Early Response Leader and is on call to respond to a disaster anywhere in New England whenever one may occur. He leads annual trips down south with an average of 30 people. He has also lead a group of students from Clemson in Hurricane Sandy recovery work.
“I absolutely do find the work rewarding. Part of that reason is because I really enjoy fixing things and making them right. But the overriding reason for doing it is the people we are working for. There is a great sense of accomplishment helping someone else through a crisis who probably would not have been able to obtain help unless you or like-minded individuals were willing to lend a hand. We like to say that people are more important than things and they are the reason we return to the projects year after year.” -Jeff Munson
When asked if there was a specific time he remembers clearly, Jeff Munson says, “the story that still sticks out in my mind is a small one that happened our first year in Louisiana – I had a crew working on a roof and we had our lunch with us everyday and had gotten used to just sitting up on the roof to eat it. The daughter of the person whose house we were working on brought some fried chicken and some other things over and asked us to come down and join her. I was pretty focused on the job and getting it done and without much thought said that we were fine but thanks anyway. She responded, “I said, lunch is ready. Get down here.” The other members of my team were pretty quick to point out that I was being stupid so we went down and joined her. I sheepishly apologized and since then have learned to graciously accept hospitality in any form because it is usually the homeowner’s way of saying thanks. But it took me a little while to learn that lesson.”
Hurricane Katrina Victims
While the assistance of volunteers is always needed and welcomed, some members of the Gulf community feel as though the greatest form of activism is sharing your story for all to see. It is important for everyone to understand that not all members of the community are given support through organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, and FEMA.
A lady by the name of Leslie began “Real People Hurricane Relief” a blog that she hoped families, groups, or individuals would reach out to directly support others without having a “middle man” such as one of the organizations.
She created a blog in October of 2006 as a part of Make a Difference Day allowing victims and volunteers to become connected. She set it up for victims in need to post their email, location, number of people and/or pets in their home, their current situation, current living arrangements, needs, and stores they would need supplies from. From this volunteers would get in touch with one of the victims and hopefully meet their needs. She felt it was necessary for the connection between victims and volunteers to foster relationships that were personal and real.
Another victim states,
“I am a problem solver, a researcher and a networker. I am also disabled. I may not be able to come down and get my hands dirty, but I can make it so more people can. I am now focusing my attention on the individuals who have fallen through the cracks of ‘organized relief’.”