Shelter reunites with Katrina evacuees

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; One year ago Community Chapel Church of God was filled with worry and tears of sadness as Hurricane Katrina evacuees waited to hear about the condition of the neighborhoods and homes in New Orleans and along the coast.

Tears of another kind filled the sanctuary Sunday afternoon as prayers of thanksgiving were lifted up for the workers who helped provide shelter and rebuild lives.

&8220;Today we are shedding tears of joy,&8221; the Rev. Steve Pearson said. &8220;Today we remember how we cared for each other, how we loved on another, how we hugged each other to life.&8221;

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And there were many more hugs, too.

Evacuees from New Orleans, Kentwood and surrounding areas filled the pews, each with stories of how they continue to rebuild and cope.

Sandra Satcher, an evacuee who now lives in Vidalia, walked up and down the halls pointing out the small office where she and her family slept, not knowing what was happening to her house in Louisiana.

As she walked down the hall, she would stop to get hugs from all the volunteers that donated their time and talents.

Church members Ginny Avara and her daughter Alexis said that by the time the shelter closed everyone was just like family.

&8220;It was good to see them go, but is was sad,&8221; Avara said. &8220;It was like saying goodbye to your family and

you knew that you might never see them again.

&8220;The people took us in,&8221; Satcher said. &8220;These people told us we were welcome to stay as long as we needed.&8221;

Red Cross volunteers from as far as North Carolina and Florida drove back to see the people they gave care to and commiserated with.

Sharon Smith, the Red Cross director of the shelter for three weeks last year, stopped by the church on her way home to Sarasota, Fla., from Texas.

&8220;There is this feeling that even if it was not home, it was home,&8221; Smith said.

&8220;When I got in the food line, I felt like I should be in the kitchen helping.&8221;

Peter Kramer, another Red Cross vounteer, kept a journal during the two weeks he stayed in Natchez.

In the journal, Kramer recalled the time when Community Chapel pastor Bo Swilley declared that &8220;the group was not in turmoil&8221; and that they would reunite a year later.

&8220;I have been looking forward to this for a year,&8221; Kramer said.