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On the job, they’re able to aid Katrina victims

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas (BP)–“Just another day at the office” has taken on a whole new meaning for several Texas Southern Baptists who are using their ordinary vocations to provide extraordinary aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Glenn Freeman of Grand Prairie is using his 30-plus years of experience in in the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard on the frontlines of Katrina’s destruction: New Orleans. According to his wife, Toni, her husband was called up by the Guard and sent to New Orleans where he is helping to set up a tent city in the ravaged city. Due to the destruction, communication with Freeman is sparse, but his duties might be expanded to include recovery operations.

Freeman, who works for Sprint and was called up to serve for a year following the Sept. 11 attacks, has been struck by what he’s seen in New Orleans. “He e-mailed and said it was like being in a whole other country,” Toni Freeman said.

Ben Peterson of Keller might have felt like he was in a whole other country as he tried to fulfill his duties as a prime medical supply vendor following the hurricane. Peterson’s territory includes Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama -– all affected by the storm. In addition, the regional distribution facility near Lake Pontchartrain was knocked out of commission. “We had to redirect all of our products,” Peterson said.

While many of the hospitals he services in New Orleans were closed, other hospitals in the region had a great need for medical supplies. “It was unbelievable. We were struggling from our inventory to try to get product to the hospitals,” Peterson recounted. In addition, communication breakdowns complicated the efforts. “We had a hard time getting in contact with hospitals,” he said.

Peterson himself was so engrossed in trying to make sure hospitals had what they needed that he didn’t realize the scope of Katrina’s destruction for several days. “I had been so busy. My focus had been on what I was trying to do,” he said. “I reached a point last week and I stopped and watched TV. It broke my heart. It was gut-wrenching.”

Amazingly, the distribution center Peterson uses came back on line over a three-day period during the first week of September and is now fully operational.

However, while structures are being repaired, it will be some time before the lives of the hurricane victims are back to normal again. Many children will begin to rebuild by going back to school. At Grand Prairie Independent School District, Southern Baptist Patty Busby serves as secretary to the superintendent, helping to welcome 146 children of evacuees. GPISD is not only enrolling students in school but also is helping provide assistance in the form of food, clothing and housing.

“It’s just part of my job,” Busby said. “We are working with all our school principals and social workers and the superintendent to get everyone on the same page.” The superintendent also is working to get the city of Grand Prairie on board with the relief effort. “We are trying to get these kids into a stable environment,” Busby said.

The district is working with families to make sure students have a place to learn even if it means making exceptions to the norm, Busby said. For instance, one apartment complex that is housing victims is split between two different schools. “We are trying to let them go to other schools even outside the boundary,” Busby said. “We don’t want schools to be overcrowded.”

Despite the overwhelming numbers and the increased workload, Busby believes this effort is her responsibility. “As a Christian, there was no question I would be participating,” she said. “If we felt inside about what Christ did for us like we do when we see the pictures on TV, there would be no question that we would share our faith. It’s not just a Christian obligation. It’s a moral obligation.”

Lynn Cunningham of Grapevine, Texas, is trying to fulfill her Christian obligation each day as a transitional housing case manager for GRACE, a nonprofit Christian aid organization. But in addition to helping Grapevine and Colleyville residents find housing, she has taken on the additional responsibility of helping displaced hurricane victims find a place to call home.

Like so many other faith-based groups across Texas, GRACE has been approved to fill open housing spots with evacuees. Cunningham found housing for a mother with a child suffering from leukemia and is looking for two more placements. “We pay rent for them and help find employment — whatever they need to help them become successful,” she said. “Emergency services have been bombarded.” In addition to food and clothing, GRACE also provided gas cards until funds ran out.

Working on a volunteer basis primarily with single women with children, Cunningham began her association with GRACE nine months ago. “I wanted to get out into the community and meet people I normally wouldn’t meet,” she said. Her work has expanded from a volunteer to a paid position. “I’m just glad God placed me in this position before this all happened.”

Cunningham warns that the hurricane recovery process will be lengthy. “This is going to be a long-term situation.” She noted that even before the hurricane, finding housing was tough and the influx of evacuees will put a strain on things.

She sees a common thread among the hurricane survivors. “Many have never been in this position before,” she said. “People are devastated and mainly looking for a way to start again. Most are very appreciative.”

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  • Stephanie Heading