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Warehouse Donations Show Evolving Recovery 

From: FEMA    Filed 5/1/06   GCN

The evolving inventory at the Interfaith Disaster Task Force (IDTF) of South Mississippi warehouse reflects the region’s progress in recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

Food and clothing flooded into the IDTF warehouse in the Woolmarket community shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29.

Now, the warehouse inventory reflects building materials that are in greater demand as more residents recover and rebuild their homes and businesses. The warehouse stores doors, Sheetrock, windows, screws, lumber, paints and stains, caulk, buckets, house numbers, appliances, mattresses, glue, and door knobs. The organization even loans power tools.

“We don’t help individuals, but we help the agencies, churches, relief organizations and volunteer groups that help individuals,” said warehouse manager Van Richardson.

The IDTF organization, incorporated in 1980 in response to hurricane disasters on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is activated only during times of need. The last mobilization before Hurricane Katrina was in 1998 following Hurricane Georges.

The IDTF mission is “to repair and rebuild hope, homes and lives in South Mississippi in the aftermath of disaster.” The task force functions as an umbrella agency that coordinates, receives and distributes money, supplies and voluntary labor, said Executive Director Roberta Avila.

Facilitating volunteer response is the group’s first priority following a disaster. Avila said she is grateful for the volunteers who continue to stream into the area by the hundreds, helping residents recover, rebuild and heal. They help the most vulnerable first.

Voluntary group tents that dot the Mississippi Gulf Coast are occupied by families, college students, retirees, the unemployed, clergy, vacationers and church members. Many camps are organized and operated by faith-based organizations, but most welcome all volunteers. Volunteer work teams perform diverse tasks – carpentry, roofing, cooking, tree removal, debris hauling, animal rescue, house painting, driving, database management, child care, and sometimes, just listening to Mississippians who have the need to tell their personal Katrina stories.

Once the victims’ basic needs are met, the task force moves on to the work of long term recovery (LTR) case management. Case managers work with individuals and families to develop plans for recovery which might include rebuilding homes, apartment rentals, jobs, daycare, counseling or other disaster-related issues.

The IDTF Woolmarket warehouse has three paid workers and one full-time volunteer, but short-term volunteers add to the mix. The staff works to help prioritize unmet needs for those overwhelmed by the enormity of the rebuilding task.

Sometimes items just appear. Staffer Chris Goulet said a man walked in and donated a large amount of syringes. The warehouse had no need for them but accepted the gift anyway. Workers wondered how to dispose of the syringes. Then, one day someone from Love Thy Neighbor in Pascagoula came in with a desperate need for medical supplies, including syringes.

Richardson has noticed the number of outgoing fulfillment orders has been steadily growing as evacuees return and start to put their lives back together. In one recent four-day period, the warehouse filled 364 orders.

Avila predicted the Hurricane Katrina recovery in South Mississippi will last eight years or longer. She worries a bit about how to ensure that the warehouse will continue to receive enough donations to make an impact on rebuilding. But those worries are ultimately mitigated by the abiding faith of IDTF staff, directors, volunteers and partners.

“We’re a praying bunch,” Avila said. 

“We ask each other to pray the prayer that’s on your heart.”

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