Senior Stories

Dispatch from Katrina

Gautier, Mississippi

I am one of the hundreds of thousands who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. I would like to share with you my personal experiences.

I own a small restaurant/deli in Gautier, Mississippi. I purchased it about three months prior to the storm as an investment. (Who knew that an “investment” would require a 20-hour a daytime commitment?) At any rate, my small community had been wonderful about supporting this endeavor prior to the storm. And the citizens here have always been caring, hard working people who truly care about each other.

When the storm hit and I saw the devastation, I quickly realized that no one was going to be able to cook the foods purchased prior to the storm because most of them no longer had a home to cook it in, a stove to cook it on, pans to cook it in, or power to be able to cook.

I too, had lost electricity, but had propane tanks that powered my grill, deep fryers, oven and cook top. I had packed all of my freezers and coolers with ice prior to the storm so that other than seafood and chicken, I had plenty of food that was safe to cook.

So I did what I do best, I began to cook. I also decided that money was going to be in scarce supply for my fellow citizens, so I offered food free. I made plate “dinners” that had a meat entree, one or two veggies, bread, tea and dessert, or a casserole type of entree and began serving it out the front door about ten thirty AM each day. I was feeding between three hundred and four hundred and fifty people each day.

Frank, at no time did I ever encounter people pushing and shoving, breaking in line or fighting over the food. They would line up, (some walking to the place because they lost their vehicles) and make small talk between themselves until it was their turn to receive their plates. I saw people giving to others whatever they had left that someone else desperately needed. I saw people offer whatever type of housing they had left to those who were living and sleeping on the ground. (Some wound up with nineteen folks living with them!) I saw people (usually with pick up trucks) load up their vehicle with people who had no transportation and then take them back to where they were currently “living”. I saw a community where people who had virtually nothing left, selflessly give what they did have.

This was prior to the Red Cross, Salvation Army or any governmental entity realized that my community even existed, much less begin to help.

Eventually, I ran out of food and money. I had used not only all of the funds in my company checking account, but my personal account as well. I vividly remember the Friday night when I doled out the last plate of food I possessed. I went home and tried to sleep but sleep was elusive. I came back to my place of business and was having one of those moments where seniors begin to talk to themselves. (We ALL know about those moments, especially those of us who live alone. I do have a dog, but for some reason, he refuses to enter into my one-person dialogs.)

At any rate, while it was not meant as a prayer, I said out loud, “Lord, how am I going to feed these people today?” (By now, it was a little after midnight.) Exactly thirty minutes later, He gave me His answer.

A pick up hauling a twenty-five trailer pulled in to the parking lot. Out hopped two men who told me that they were from Liberty, Texas and that they had a few items in their truck. May the Lord forgive me Frank, I thought to myself that they were vultures who had purchased much needed stuff and had planned to sell it at inflated prices from said truck!

However, I had just counted out all of the change in my cash register drawer and knew that I had nine dollars on me. I asked if they had some fresh meat I could buy, thinking that maybe I could add some rice or other starchy veggie to it and somehow stretch it enough to feed my community. “Yes” one of them answered and I then politely inquired how much it was.

He looked at me and replied, “Ma’am, you don’t seem to understand. EVERYTHING on this truck is for you and the community. Free.”

I honestly thought I was having a wonderful dream and would wake up at any moment. I mean, why would two men I never met in my life suddenly show up and answer my desperate prayer?

Well, they then showed me why. They flung open the doors to the trailer and it was virtually crammed with not only fresh meat and veggies, but much needed diapers, baby foods, personal care items, bleach and other cleaning supplies, but impossible to get gasoline as well! And they began to unload it into my place!

These two Angels were from a church in Liberty, Texas who had put out the call to their congregation for help. And help they did. It seems that one of their church members had family in my town and told these men to take the stuff to my place for it was known as the local community center and everyone would go there.

I hate to admit it, but I was crying by the time they finished unloading Frank. Happy tears. Grateful tears. Tears of wonderment and tears of pride that I lived in a country that no matter what our political, social or economic differences are, will come together to help in times of trial.

And it gets even better Frank. A family member in Florida had put the word out on the Internet what I had been doing and about two weeks later, (just about the time I was once again running out of foods) trucks began arriving from all over our wonderful country. Trucks filled with clothing, foods, both canned and fresh, baby items, tents, linens and everything else one needs in a disaster.

While my community was hit hard, it is the absolute truth that with the help and aid of all of the wonderful angels in this country, we were able to survive our disaster in a much more comfortable manner.

Naturally, we are but one of hundreds of thousands of small communities that were hit. But most shocking to me was that our community would never see CNN or President Bush here, yet through miracles and the Internet we have been taken care of. Oh how I wish that EVERY small community like us had been given the miracles and angels we have. Of course, by now they have had the governmental help that eventually came to my community as well. But I surely wish they had the early help we had.

I know this e-mail is long, but I just wanted you to know that I now know angels are real. I have seen them, hugged them, thanked them, laughed (and cried) with them and prayed with them. Those angels are American citizens, American churches, and American children.

And I am just so delighted that I live among them Frank. What a wonderful country we have! No disaster or terrorist could EVER take away what makes this country so great Frank. And that is the American Spirit. They might bomb us; they might attempt to destroy us through chemical or biological weapons or terror. But they will not ever crush this spirit and willingness to come together and do whatever is necessary to rebuild life, communities and/or the greatest gift of all, hope.

Just sign me as one who is proud to be an American.



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