Well, our bags are packed and we're ready to go… on a 20-hour (+ Super Bowl stop) bus ride to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where we'll be spending a week helping people rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. From what we hear, there's still plenty of work to be done. The work assignments change weekly (yes, there have been 200 volunteers every week for a year and a half in this community alone), but we've been told we'll probably be drywalling, painting, laying carpet, etc.
We first heard about this opportunity in an item which ran in our church bulletin for a couple Sundays in September, when the Synod (all the Lutheran churches in western PA) announced openings for their 3 weeks of work trips this winter. Since we had just seen child #2 off to college and had some schedule flexibility, we thought it sounded like a good idea. Also, we've had some first-hand experience of the devastation flooding can cause.
In our neighborhood, where flooding hit over 2 years ago, some people are still displaced. Many homes had to be bulldozed, though some were later rebuilt (some not yet), and raised up another floor. Many people in our neighborhood lost nearly everything. We're fortunate that our house is on a little high spot, so even though the road was closed in either direction, we were able to help our neighbors all that weekend.
So, now we're just helping some slightly further-away neighbors in a similar situation.
Ocean Springs MS is across the bay from Biloxi, which was very hard-hit by Katrina.
We'll be staying at a church camp, along with volunteers from all over the country, but otherwise we don't know too much what to expect. I mean, we've been told what the groups last year have experienced, and we have a pretty good idea of how things are set up (we had an organizational meeting in December with lots of handouts), but I'm sure it'll be different than I might think. We know we'll be staying in dormitory-style quarters, with men and women separate, so we've had to pack separately. There are only a few restrooms & showers for all those people, so we may take advantage of the $3 YMCA offer (to work out, in case we need it, and get a hot shower). Apparently there's a big kitchen to feed all those volunteers, and that's one of the possible work assignments, cooking in the kitchen. We had to fill out skills surveys in December, so since I have far fewer construction-related skills than Al does, I suspect I'll end up in the kitchen at least part of the time. Which would be OK with me, though I really want to do some real work, too. I gather they're trying to allow people to do some of each as much as possible.
We're packing our safety gear (hardhats, work boots, safety glasses, work gloves, coveralls), I got my hair cut really short so I don't have to mess with it, I got a tetanus shot (Al's was up to date), I made some nutritious snacks to bring, we've got our sunblock and bug repellant, and I think we're ready! I've also got the digital camera, and an old wireless laptop from work; they told us that unlike previous trips there won't be computers available, but there is a WiFi network in place, so they asked people to bring laptops so they can go online to locate the work sites, etc.
Our congregation has been really supportive! We're the only two going from our particular church, but they've donated over $1,000 for us to buy Lowe's and WalMart gift cards, which is apparently the best way to get supplies once we're there. Tomorrow they're sending us off with a "commissioning", then we'll go to Mom & Dad's for lunch, and they'll give us a ride to the Synod office (near their house) to catch the bus at 2:00.
We should be in Mississippi by late morning on Monday. We're really looking forward to it!
I'm hoping I can post while we're there, but we shall see about that. The weather is calling for upper 50's & lower 60's all week, sunny, so that'll be nicer than the 5-degree deep-freeze we're leaving :-) Sounds like good working weather…