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Faith-Based Volunteers Help Rebuild Gulf Coast

Pastor Jeff Blank of St. James Lutheran Church in Allison, Iowa, uses a saw while helping rebuild a home in Biloxi, Miss.
David Schaper, NPR
Pastor Jeff Blank of St. James Lutheran Church in Allison, Iowa, uses a saw while helping rebuild a home in Biloxi, Miss.
Donald Bliss, retired construction superintendent, stands next to the pickup truck he drove to Biloxi from his home in of Greene, Iowa. "We just wanted to help," he says of his church group.
David Schaper, NPR /
Donald Bliss, retired construction superintendent, stands next to the pickup truck he drove to Biloxi from his home in of Greene, Iowa. "We just wanted to help," he says of his church group.

Hundreds of thousands of people were left standing in Hurricane Katrina's wreckage and wondering who would help them rebuild their lives. So far, more than half a million people have helped answer that question, traveling to the Gulf Coast to volunteer in recovery and relief efforts, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

This assistance has been essential. Many homeowners in the region still haven't received insurance money or government grants to cover the cost of rebuilding. Much of the reconstruction work in Louisiana and Mississippi is being done by faith-based volunteers.

"I don't exactly know how to put it, but there's more need down here than I can describe," says Donald Bliss, who came to help rebuild homes in Biloxi, Miss. The retired construction superintendent says his church group from the areas of Greene and Allison, Iowa, "just wanted to help."

Bliss and the other volunteers hung drywall and doors, caulked windows, and put in baseboard and trim in a home that Katrina's storm surge flooded and ruined from floor to ceiling.

Like many others in this impoverished area of East Biloxi, the home's elderly owner couldn't afford this job on her own.

It's hard work, especially for northerners suffering in Mississippi's intense heat and humidity. But it's well worth it, says Pastor Mark Walker, because of what it means to the home's owner.

"She said the whole neighborhood is watching, and when one person moves in, everybody has another bit of hope," Walker says.

"We could not have survived without the help of volunteers," says Biloxi City Councilman Bill Stallworth. Insurance claim checks have been small or non-existent, and residents say faith- based groups, have offered much more help than the government.

"I pray to God every day, that he keeps sending volunteers," Stallworth says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Schaper
David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.