Mississippi Catholic parish shelters New Orleans group home evacuees

By Fabvienen Taylor
Catholic News Service

BRANDON, Miss. (CNS) -- "God continues to show up and show out," said Dorothy McKnight as Steve Walton, a parishioner at St. Paul Church in Brandon, delivered lunch Sept. 13 to the clients and staff of Ciara House of New Orleans.

McKnight is program director of Ciara House, a group home that offers housing with supportive services for adults in treatment with the Office of Mental Health in New Orleans.

Staff members and clients of Ciara House left New Orleans Aug. 28, as Hurricane Katrina bore down on southeastern Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

When an earlier storm had threatened New Orleans, Ciara House staff had contacted the parish and made arrangements to temporarily stay there. It proved unnecessary then.

But, when Katrina threatened, the group from Ciara House again asked the parish for shelter. With parts of New Orleans still flooded, the group did not know when it will return there.

"The generosity and kindness of the people here make us feel so safe and welcome, absolutely," McKnight told the Mississippi Catholic, newspaper of the Jackson Diocese.

At a Sept. 4 Mass, McKnight and Alozia St. Julian, a residential counselor, expressed their appreciation to the parishioners, and one of the clients, Norman Foster, drew a poster expressing his thanks.

The group, made up of eight male and four female clients and three staff members, including Ray Watts, the cook and driver, were being housed in the parish's activities center. Their lunch and dinner meals were being prepared and delivered daily by parishioners.

Monica Walton, a stay-at-home mother of four, prepared one lunch for the group that consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches, potato salad, fruit salad and cookies.

"I found out about it from a friend of mine in the preschool moms' group," said Walton. "There has been great parishioner support for it."

Michelle Harris, who still had electrical power after the storm, initially organized the meals for the group. "We've been coordinating their needs such as showers and filling prescriptions. Every parishioner I called, if they couldn't help with the food, sent something such as music, movies, televisions, games (or) magazines to help."

Parishioner Christine Sarkady took over the food scheduling after Harris.

She said meals for the group were covered for a month. "One of our parishioners has gotten an organization to donate the meals for a month," said Sarkady. "There has been a great outpouring of people in support of this."

Another parishioner had the group over for a barbeque and pool party.

Having to flee their group home and wondering about family and friends left behind, McKnight said many in the group spend their time quietly reading, watching television and relaxing. She said a gym near them offered their facility to the group for some physical activities.

"I like to read a lot," said Glenn Minyard, 43. His son lived in St. Bernard Parish, a civil entity that was flooded, but left for Baton Rouge before the storm.

"Everyone has been so kind and generous," he said. "They brought us some books, some games, even Yahtzee."

Frances Robinson, 46, does not know yet where her grown children are. "I hope they see me in this newspaper," she said.

McKnight knows where her family members are and is in contact with them. They have all watched the media coverage of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

"We don't know about the area where I live," said McKnight, who lives in the 9th Ward in New Orleans. "The media has not been there or we haven't been able to see it."

McKnight said Monetta Clark, administrator of Ciara Community Services for the Chronically Mentally Ill, is looking for temporary housing for the group in Jefferson Parish, another civil entity in Louisiana.

"We sure are going to hate leaving this community," said McKnight.

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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