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From Tennessee to Texas, churches shelter and serve hurricane evacuees

(UPDATED 9-3-08) — Congregations continued on Tuesday offering shelter, food, clothing and other necessities to those who had fled Hurricane Gustav, even as many made arrangements to begin returning to their Gulf Coast homes.
While Gustav’s punch paled in comparison to that delivered by Hurricane Katrina three years ago, there was no way to know exactly where or how hard the storm would hit. An estimated 2 million residents of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama heeded evacuation pleas, some of them arriving by bus or car at shelters staffed by Church of Christ volunteers or makeshift dormitories at church activity centers or Christian university campuses.
“It may not have been as bad as we anticipated, but you can’t take any chances,” said Brenda Campbell, a veteran of Katrina thankful for a cot inside a Red Cross shelter at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. “God told Noah to warn his people … and obedience is better than sacrifice.”
With Tropical Storms Hanna, Ike, Josephine now brewing in the Atlantic and Tropical Storm Karina formed in the Pacific, the preparation and cooperation seen this week can make everyone feel a bit more secure during the uncertain hurricane season ahead, said church leaders.
“Now, we get to stress some more over the projected paths of Ike and Josephine,” said Les Ferguson Jr., minister of the Orange Grove church in Gulfport, Miss.
As Hurricane Gustav made landfall near Houma, La.,on Monday, Churches of Christ in the surrounding communities and states sheltered, fed and reached out to evacuees from the Category 3storm.
Many, including the Vaughn Park church in Montgomery, Ala., played arole in relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coastalmost exactly three years ago.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response. In fact, we’ve been running intoeach other,” Denise Nelson, the Vaughn Park church’s children’sminister, told The Christian Chronicle on Monday.
The congregation, which served as a shelter during Katrina, is atcapacity, housing 92 people from the New Orleans area in its gym.Evacuees began arriving Saturday afternoon at the church’s facility, adesignated Red Cross shelter.
Many of the church’s 1,000 members are providing meals, snacks and linens for the evacuees.
“We may outnumber them,” Nelson said.
On Tuesday, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley visited the Vaughn Park building and spoke with evacuees and volunteers. He told the group, “If you’ve got to hang out somewhere, this is a pretty good place,”according to The Advocate.
Unlike Katrina, many of the evacuees left days ahead of Gustav and made advanced preparations for the trip — including packing plenty of clothes, Nelson said.
The church’s Web site is vaughnpark.com.
Trying to outrun Hurricane Gustav, 25 evacuees from New Orleans were placed in the homes of White’s Ferry Road church members in West Monroe, La., Sunday night.
Most were part of the original 60 people who were housed in the White’s Ferry Road building for six weeks following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“It’s wonderful that we get to see old friends again,” said Beverly Dobbs, who is keeping eight people in her home.
Dobbs coordinated the efforts at the church building following Katrina.
“We didn’t put them in our building,” she said today. “They are our family, so you put them in your house.”
The evacuees called minister White’s Ferry Road minister Alan Robertson to say they were coming.
“They told him, ‘It is wonderful to have family to come to,’” Dobbs said.
Robertson and others have kept in touch with the families since Hurricane Katrina and have visited in their homes in New Orleans. Most are of Cuban descent.
On Monday, the evacuees went down to the White’s Ferry Road church building to rake leaves and straighten up.
“They love to work, and they love to make sure we know how grateful they are,” Dobbs said.
White’s Ferry Road’s site is at wfrchurch.org/relief.
Also working with the Red Cross and other agencies to assist evacuees:
• In Little Rock, Ark., the Pleasant Valley church is housing about 180 evacuees in its family life center. The Red Cross set up the facility and the Salvation Army is providing food.
“Right now, everything’s running like clockwork,” church secretary Debbie Watson said.
Residents from the coast began arriving at the Pleasant Valley church building about 10 a.m. Sunday, between the congregation’s two worship services. Some of the church’s 1,200 members are providing snacks while others “are on standby” waiting to assist, Watson said.
The church served as a drop-off site for relief supplies after Katrina. This is the congregation’s first experience housing evacuees, Watson said.
The church¹s Web site is www.pvcc.org.
• In El Dorado, Ark., the 450-member College Avenue church is housing about 70 evacuees, elder David Hogg said. Church members opened the church building for the Red Cross at 4 a.m. Sunday.
The church also served as a shelter during Katrina. As Gustav approached, “people got here a lot earlier and knew what to do,” Hogg said.
The church’s Web site is www.cacoc.org.
• In Monroe, La., members of the Forsythe Avenue church are working with the Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana, which has prepared emergency food and supply boxes for evacuees, minister John Dobbs said.
Workers are stationed at the 160-member church’s facility and are “ready to help those who need supplies,” Dobbs said. Church leaders also will check on members following the tropical weather expected in the Monroe area.
“We are grateful that Gustav had a decrease of intensity before landfall,” Dobbs told the Chronicle. “We have all been praying for the dissipation of the storm.
“We are also in prayer for the churches along the coast and have been in touch with some to survey needs.”
• In Lebanon, Tenn., the College Hill church is housing about 130 evacuees, office manager Elizabeth Dyal said. Evacuees began arriving at the church’s facility between 3 and 5 a.m. Sunday.
“We have had multiple volunteers here 24/7,” Dyal said. It’s the 1,000-member congregation’s first experience hosting evacuees, she added. Though the church was a Red Cross disaster facility during Katrina, its facility was not used.
The church’s Web site is collegehills.org.
The Shrader Lane church in Nashville, Tenn., also is serving as a Red Cross shelter, The Tennessean reported Sunday. Red Cross officials expect 2,000 evacuees to be housed in middle Tennessee.
• In Chattanooga, Tenn., the East Third Street church is gathering supplies and donations to help the 100-plus evacuees staying at the Brainerd recreation center. Contact the church at (423) 622-7263.
• In Tyler, Texas, the Glenwood church is serving as a volunteer registration center, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported. The church opened its doors until about 6 p.m. Sunday to register volunteers and will continue to do so until at least Wednesday.
“The different locations are calling us – Red Cross or Salvation Army,” church member Donna LaRue told the newspaper. “Whenever they have an immediate need, they’re calling us to let us know what their needs are.”
Member Melea Edwards added, “There’s going to be a real need. It’s going to take a lot of volunteering from the community.”
• At the North Davis church in Arlington, Texas, 144 guests arrived aboard three buses on Monday afternoon. The congregation had been designated as the second-in-line facility in North Texas to receive those transported out of the Gulf Coast over the weekend.
Church members collected linens to make up cots and contributed towels for the North Davis shelter, while the Red Cross provided food, water, toiletries and other items. Trained volunteers from the congregation took a majority of the work shifts, as well.
“Our members accomplished an amazing amount of work in a short time to prepare for them,” said D.J. Bulls, minister of music and worship.”
• Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., served as one of nine Red Cross shelters in the Nashville area for Gustav evacuees. Forty people slept in the activities center and in the gym, said Janel Shoun, Media Relations Manager at Lipscomb.
Among the evacuees was an extended family of 20 from the New Orleans and Hammond, La., areas, Shoun said.
• The Airline Drive church in Bossier City, La., begin preparing last Thursday for evacuees to stay with families and at the church’s Family Life Center, said Nona Chitty, a church member. Hot meals and snacks were provided by volunteers and area restaurants, Chitty said, and 115 guests were served on Sunday evening.
“Many have started home today,” she said, “and all were most appreciative of the way they were treated here.”
• The White Station church in Memphis, Tenn., didn’t plan to open its new Community Life Center until Sept. 13. That is, until Gustav necessitated a change in plans.
Theresa Jordan, the director of the center and Ministry Coordinator at White Station, said the congregation is thrilled to be using its new building to serve its neighbors and an even greater community.
“When the need for shelter came up, we decided a different type of grand opening would occur,” Jordan said, “one that would house those needing shelter from the storm.”
• At the Goodman Oaks church in Southaven, Ms., volunteers partnered with those from other area churches to serve 75 or so evacuees housed at The Arena at Southaven. Most of those sleeping, eating and waiting at the community center found out about the shelter from signs positioned along Interstate 55.
Local residents heralded the faith-based commnity’s response to those in need and said the shelter was running smoothly.
• Two pregnant women — and a pet chicken — are among the 134 evacuees at the College Hills church in Lebanon, Tenn., according to the Wilson Post.

A special service was being planned for Wednesday night, and many of the guests planned to participate, according to the newspaper.
“We’re going to have a special prayer service for their safety andtheir return trip home. This experience has been an opportunity for ourchurch family to share with those in need and we want the evacuees togo away from here with a good feeling,” said Darren Brown, collegeminister at College Hills.
The evacuees are hoping to begin making the return trip home on Friday or Saturday, Brown said.

Associate editor Joy McMillon, online editor Tamie Ross and managing editor Bobby Ross Jr. contributed to this report. Please send additional hurricane-related news to [email protected].

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