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Evacuees influenced local volunteers

VIDALIA — Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the Rev. Jason Cole still cannot walk into the fellowship hall at Parkway Baptist Church in Natchez without seeing the faces of the evacuees he helped during their greatest time of need.

Cole, administration and education minister at the church, said he would never forget what happened at the Parkway shelter, one of eight Natchez shelters open for weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

“I find myself coming into work and expecting them to still be here,” Cole said. “It’s hard to believe it happened five years ago.”

During the weeks after Katrina, Cole said the church registered approximately 800 people at their shelter.

“I think we had 350 people at one time in the church,” he said. “This doesn’t include the 40 homes of our church members that evacuees stayed at.”

Cole said being able to help the evacuees that stayed at the church was something that changed his life for the better.

“It affirmed my calling to the ministry here at Parkway,” he said. “Seeing everyone come together in a time of tragedy and help strangers they don’t even know encouraged me to see the church as a whole be what it’s supposed to be and do what it’s supposed to do — love.”

Angie Brown, a long-time Red Cross volunteer, spent hours upon hours at the shelter in the Steckler Multipurpose Center in Natchez helping during Katrina, and said she remembers the gratefulness of those she helped more than anything.

“The majority of the people we helped after Katrina were very thankful for the services provided,” she said. “They helped out in any way they could while they were at the shelter.”

Brown said she was brought to tears by one selfless act from the victims of the hurricane.

“A group of the evacuees took up a collection for our chapter of the Red Cross,” she said. “They didn’t have two pennies but they came up with $50 for our chapter. I had to leave after that because I was so emotional.”

Trish Pomeroy, a Parkway church member also volunteered her time at the shelter, and said the people at the shelter just wanted others to be there for them.

“When they first came in, they were so appreciative of a safe and secure place to be,” she said. “They were appreciative for a friendly face.”

Pomeroy said the children staying at the shelter helped open her eyes to what is important in life.

“The children were clinging to their parents when they first arrived,” Pomeroy said. “After a few weeks of being there, they opened up, and I fell in love. It made me aware of how important family and security are.”

Pomeroy said after her experience at the shelter, she learned what her calling was.

“I had several friends go on mission trips,” she said. “I realized that shelter work would be my mission field.”

Even after the evacuees left, Cole said they kept in contact in more than one way.

“We received cards and visits from some of the people who stayed here letting us know how they were doing and how we helped,” he said. “They don’t know how much they did for us, we stopped doing church and became a church full of loving, sacrificing people.”

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