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Lutherans team up to help hurricane victims

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Though it's been almost a year and a half since Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the southern coastline of the United States, the cleanup effort is still a long way from being completed.

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In fact, some officials estimate that it could be a decade or more before the communities most devastated by the storm begin to reach a state of true normalcy again.

So it's not surprising that Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) has been concentrating much of its volunteer organizational efforts of the past year on the repair and cleanup of homes along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

This past January, a group of a dozen Detroit Lakes residents joined that effort, traveling down to Ocean Springs, Miss., to spend five days working with about 200 other volunteers from across the U.S. on repairing hurricane damage to as many homes as they could reach during their stay.

Among those making the trip were Detroit Lakes Mayor Larry Buboltz and his wife, Adrienne; Jim and Jerry Langemo; Roger and Jan Lee; Charles Carlson, Clayton Jensen, Miquette Denie, Bob Hoover, Terry Carlisle and John Lee.

John Lee is the assistant to Bishop Rolf Wangberg of the Northwest Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Bishop Wangberg and his wife, Pat were among the 17 other Minnesota volunteers who made the trip along with the "Detroit Lakes dozen."

Of the Detroit Lakes contingent, five were members of First Lutheran Church, and the other seven were from Trinity Lutheran.

What makes this particular relief effort so unique, Lee noted, is that LDR is a collaborative ministry of the ELCA and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).

"I know of only two (ministries) that both the ELCA and LCMS take part in," Lee said. The other is Lutheran World Relief, which organizes volunteer relief efforts for disasters around the world, while LDR works exclusively within the U.S.

The Detroit Lakes group was among the 207 volunteers who spent the week at Camp Victor in Ocean Springs, which is one of two LDR volunteer bases on the Gulf Coast (Camp Biloxi, in Biloxi, Miss., is the other).

Camp Victor is housed in an old garment factory, which has been converted to hold several dormitories, a dining hall, emergency supply distribution center, building materials warehouse, tool storage area and office space for LDR staff including a construction supervisor, volunteer coordinator and social workers (who provide counseling services).

"They cooked three meals for us every day, and if we couldn't come back (to the dining hall), they sent sandwiches out with us (to the work site)," Hoover noted.

The workers concentrated on homes within a 15-20 mile radius of the camp, Carlisle added. In all, their group was able work on about a dozen homes during those five days.

"We did carpentry, electrical, plumbing, painting, carpet, tile general cleanup -- whatever they needed," he added. Prior to the team's arrival on site, an assessment team had gone through each of the homes on the list to determine what materials and tools would be needed.

But if the volunteers discovered that more work was needed, all they would need to do is go to someone on the Camp Victor staff and request the necessary materials and equipment.

"They have a very good system set up," Carlisle said. If additional materials are needed that are not in stock, volunteers can simply drive to the nearest lumber or hardware store, where an account has been set up.

What touched him the most, Carlisle added, was the stories of the people whose homes had been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.

One small house had more than a dozen people living in it, all related. Though it was not really large enough to house so many, it was the only home that had been left standing by the storm, and so they all moved in together.

Though the house really was not in good enough structural shape to justify replacing the roof, the volunteers did so anyway, Carlisle noted.

Many of the families whose homes they worked on also received a handmade quilt that had been donated by the congregation of First Lutheran, Lee noted.

It was particularly touching to see the tears of gratitude from so many, Carlisle added.

Camp Victor houses up to 220 volunteers a week, and it has been at or close to capacity every week since it opened last year, Lee noted. It is the mission of Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Ocean Springs, which provided one of the earliest bases for Lutheran volunteer efforts after Katrina struck.

Lee admitted he was surprised to find that there were still homes badly in need of repair that remained untouched since disaster struck.

"There are places where they are still cleaning out debris (from the hurricane)," he said. "There are some houses that haven't been cleaned out because they just don't have the volunteers or the money to do it all."

So rewarding was the work, and so much more effort needed, that another mission trip involving Lutheran volunteers from Detroit Lakes and other congregations in the Northwest Synod is being organized by First Lutheran Church in DL, which is donating its bus for the trip. The second group will be leaving on March 10, Lee said.

And many of those who made the trip in January have already set aside vacation time for next year, so they can go back, he added.

"We had such a positive experience that everyone in our group said they'd like to go back," Lee said.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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