Army serves on Gulf Coast

Sierra del Mar PR Director visits small towns along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast where The Salvation Army’s presence is a constant.


Four devastated little cities along the Gulf Coast somehow fell off media radar after Hurricane Katrina hit. While the eyes of the nation were on Louisiana, residents of Pascagoula, Gautier, Moss Point, and Ocean Springs, Mississippi waited five days without ice, water, or power in sewage flooded streets before outside help arrived. Neighbors banded together in makeshift shelters or slept outside on concrete slabs where their homes had been; they shared food defrosting in their battered refrigerators. It didn’t take five days for The Salvation Army to show up, however, because we were already there. The Pascagoula Corps immediately mobilized canteens to begin feeding those they could reach. Six canteens roamed Jackson County and a voucher assistance program was put in place.

Assigned as the public information officer and liaison between the Emergency Operations Center and The Salvation Army Disaster Outreach based in Pascagoula, I was responsible for overseeing communications, situation and media reports. In addition, I was fortunate to accompany Army teams doing canteen work and family assistance, interacting with staff, volunteers, and those we were helping.

Each day as we would go out into the devastation left by Katrina, we prayed for God’s guidance in “Doing The Most Good.” I was given permission to focus on special needs cases, searching out and being led by the Lord to those who were falling through the cracks.

Some women walking away from the long line outside SA headquarters caught my attention. With vouchers in hand, I escorted them home.

There on the front porch sat Mr. Howard Barnes, who is blind; he was rocking as he has every day for many years. Howard’s 83-year-old wife, Mary, had gone to the corps for help. Mrs. Barnes showed me the rooms Katrina had filled with water as the storm surge swept in, leaving buckled floors, black mold on the walls and floors, and a pungent musty smell in the humid air, in spite of the Clorox that she sprays daily to keep the mold at bay.

That day, however, The Salvation Army brought hope and the promise of God’s good news into the Barnes’ house, in the form of a new washer and dryer, visits from the Army’s incident commander, shared prayer, conversation, and even a good laugh. With the Army as their advocate, the Barneses were finally able to get into the FEMA trailer, that had been delivered two weeks earlier, locked tight and not hooked up. We followed up with a Braille telephone for Mr. Barnes and a portable phone for the bedroom.

Sister Joyce Jones had three grandchildren with sickle cell anemia. Every piece of furniture, every item of clothing, and every personal possession was destroyed by the storm surge. However, their insurance would cover nothing, because storm surge damage doesn’t qualify as hurricane damage. Her grandson, Eric, had worked to the point of exhaustion cleaning his home, the neighbor’s homes, and his grandmother’s home; he ended up in the hospital battling a serious flair up. The Salvation Army helped the family with school uniforms, cookware, appliances, and building materials.

And there was Lisa, who had nothing left of her home near the coast. Her husband was away serving in the military; she was sleeping in a tent and working at the Emergency Operations Command Outpost when we met. Like so many others, she wanted to talk and have someone truly listen. The Salvation Army gave Lisa a voucher for clothing, linens, and bedding. When I left the tent city to come home, I gave her my Aero-mattress; she gave me a beautiful dish from her native Peru along with words I will always treasure: “Only The Salvation Army has really, really cared about me. Thank you.”

Clearly, The Salvation Army doesn’t just hand out cash and go on its way. We listen; we address the family’s most urgent needs; and we offer comfort, support and hope for today and for tomorrow.

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