After Hurricane Katrina, area relief came to evacuees in staggering numbers

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Numbers continue to tell an impressive story of community response to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Thousands fleeing from the Aug. 29 storm that devastated coastal Mississippi and Louisiana chose Natchez as their temporary haven in the weeks following the disaster.

Many remained for months, through the holiday season; and some bought homes and rented apartments for longer stays.

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Kathy Stephens, director of United Way of the Miss-Lou, recently updated the Natchez mayor and board of aldermen on that agency&8217;s aid to evacuees.

&8220;We&8217;ve received about a million and a half dollars in donated goods,&8221; Stephens said. &8220;And United Way of America provided $200,000.&8221;

With that, provisions provided to evacuees and to families hosting them number in the many thousands, she said.

More than 15,000 have received personal care items; more than 20,000 have received clothing; and more than 13,000 have received food.

&8220;These numbers are staggering,&8221; said Mayor Phillip West. &8220;I would not have believed we could have served so many people.&8221;

Stephens said many other organizations played big roles in serving evacuees. &8220;And all of this was done outside the range of our daily business.&8221;

For example, the mayor&8217;s office &8220;worked with United Way to organize and coordinate community partnerships and kept lines of communication open with city department heads to ensure that needed services and manpower were available, allowing public employees to assist the recovery effort outside their normal job description,&8221; she said.

The engineering department located a distribution center and provided volunteers.

The public works department helped to unload donated items, transport them and provided equipment and storage space.

The Natchez Convention Center provided meeting space, storage space and fork lifts.

The Natchez Fire Department provided help in unloading trucks. The Natchez Police Department updated personnel regularly on things happening in the community.

Concordia Parish provided space for free medical clinics.

Churches and other agencies, such as the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, assisted with organization of food and clothing donations.

Through the COPE Center, a United Way-funded agency, 567 clients received case management.

Catholic Charities provided $40,000 in gasoline vouchers, and that agency continues to work in long-term recovery activities.

Stephens said approximately 4,000 people have received information and referral services.

During the Christmas season, 4,563 received holiday gifts through the United Way programs.

Many other agencies played important roles, Stephens said.

&8220;Many, many corporations across America contributed goods,&8221; she said, explaining that her report indicates the kind of deep, grass-roots work that took place locally along with generous donors from far-flung parts of the country.