This story is written by Pat Kondas, Red Cross volunteer from Spokane, WA.
As her “almost four-year-old” daughter Madelynn cuddles up to her new BFF on a cot, Denise Wheat talks about her stay at the Red Cross shelter at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Slidell. It’s been stressful for the family, she says, especially since they haven’t been able to get back to their home to see the damage. There is one road in and one road out, both impassable. She’s also worried about where they will go when the shelter closes. She’s been assured they can move to another shelter, but it may not be in the area. But Denise has nothing but praise for the Red Cross and the shelter workers. She said sometimes they’ll see her walking around looking sad and one of them will come over and they “always keep me laughing. They’ve been wonderful.”
Denise’s husband, Joshua Walker, has been tracking down resources. He learned about the shelter and other services through 211. He has also contacted FEMA, but they haven’t been able to get to the property to asses the damage yet. He said the family wants to stay in the area, but they definitely will move to higher ground. They can’t move home in any case, since the sewer has overflowed and it isn’t safe.
On another cot Jonathon Hilbish sits with his kids, Nathaniel, 1, and Alexander, 4, while his wife Mamie gets lunch that has just been brought in by the Red Cross mobile feeding vehicle. Hilbish said they had initially evacuated and stayed with family, but that didn’t work out. They arrived at the shelter at 3:30 in the morning and were welcomed by the staff. Like the others in the area, their house is inaccessible right now and a neighbor has told them the sewer line in their yard was leaking and bubbling up. He’s hoping that he can find transitional housing. Hilbish said the shelter has been comfortable and the kids have actually sort of settled in. Different residents had brought in DVDs, toys, and even coolers, and consolidated everything. “People are sharing things,” he said, as Nathaniel and his new friend Madelynn picked out toys from the community pile and went off to play. To pass the time, Hilbish has been helping the shelter staff, unloading the trucks and transporting people – just “trying to give something back.”
Shelter Manager Bob Levangie said things have gone smoothly at the shelter at Aldersgate Methodist Church. It’s quiet in the daytime since the older kids have been able to return to school. The shelter operation has not interfered with the activities of the church. On Sunday afternoon, the church had scheduled a barbeque and picnic. Rather than cancel it, they moved it into the shelter and invited all the residents. It was a good time for both the church members and the shelter residents.
Shelter life can be stressful, but skillful, compassionate shelter staff and resilient, patient residents can make the best of a difficult situation.