LaPlace Methodists open doors to Red Cross volunteers

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 10, 2005



LAPLACE – Perhaps more than anything else, help in the time of hurricane recovery has been evident from church after church in the River Region.

First Methodist Church of LaPlace Pastor Mark Bray may have put it best this week when he talked about the housing his church is providing for Red Cross workers.

“Watching what has happened here, and the way people have wanted to help in this crisis, has been a wonderful outpouring of Christian compassion,” he said.

First Methodist is one of many local churches which have gone the extra mile in offering help, in the wake of Katrina and Rita.

Within a week of the first storm, First Methodist found out about a need for housing relief and recovery workers. First it was state troopers from Arkansas and Louisiana, and now that housing help has continued with a nice home for Red Cross and FEMA workers.

Church Member Rob Bell, who has spearheaded the shelter, got things going just a week after Katrina hit when he walked next door to Lake Pontchartrain Elementary, where state troopers were forced to set up living quarters.

“I saw they needed housing and we offered our church,” he said. “We have used Sunday school classes, spare rooms, even the sanctuary for people to sleep and live.”

From the outset, First Methodist put up nearly 50 troopers, which has now switched to the same number of Red Cross workers, as well as a few FEMA adjusters.

The church provides one hot meal a day, supplies for breakfast before the workers go out in the morning, laundry services, a hot shower, and soon to come, cable TV in their rooms.

“It has been so good to see how people have stepped up to help here,” Bray added. “We just put the word out to our people that we were going to do this, and so many have helped.”

While a core group of about 20 have been very regular helping, Bell said that there have probably been close to 100 church members who have helped from time to time.

“We have had people making home-cooked meals each day and bringing them here every evening for supper, along with fresh baked desserts,” Bell remarked. “It’s really been great to see how much people want to help.”

Red Cross Shelter Manager Chuck Warnock, from Stockton, Cal., said the First Methodist members have made the church a home away from home for his people.

“These people have actually made this like a real home for us,” he said. “We’ll all cry when it’s time to leave. For us, this has been like the Hilton.”

Each morning the Red Cross workers must rise early and head out to take food and supplies to flood-ravaged people in the entire Southeast Louisiana region. Then they return home in the late afternoon, able to take a hot shower, and have a hot meal.

“If word gets out about how nice it is here, this place will be full,” Warnock joked. “But really, it has been so wonderful to see how much they have helped us. Many of the relief efforts the Red Cross goes to, the housing is very primitive. But we have really been well taken care of here.”

As for how long this will continue, Bell said he is not sure.

“We are here for as long as they need us,” he said, using his own vacation time from his job to work full time at the church with his wife Sharon.