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December 7, 2005
What does experience in a disaster relief zone have to do with the 50th District North Carolina Senate race? Lots and lots when you begin to understand that local, state, and federal governments cannot begin to provide the massive support required to get a disaster zone back on its feet. Government can facilitate, but it cannot do the work of volunteer and church organizations who team together following what I understand was the greatest natural disaster ever to impact the United States.

Thanksgiving week was different for the Bagley family in 2005. As Elaine and I learned over the past few months about the hundreds of volunteers working on the Katrina relief effort, we decided we needed to do our turn. So the Friday before Thanksgiving, we pointed our Toyota toward Waveland, Mississippi and drove straight through. We had arranged to team up with Hearts With Hands, Inc. a wonderful group headquarted in Asheville whose mission is to reach out to communities impacted by disasters. They have recently partnered with Foundation Hope to help address the huge needs in the area. The www.foundationhope.net website can update visitors on our group that provided relief.

Helping with Katrina ReliefWe arrived about 9PM and spent the first night in a FEMA trailer which had not yet been assigned, and the other four nights saw us in an RV without toilet facilities. Luckily, the food/clothing/water distribution point where we were assigned was in a shopping center which did have a working toilet. In five days, I did treat myself to a single outdoor shower
with a curtain providing the privacy.

Our nighttime arrival precluded our understanding the unbelievable devastation that had wrecked the Gulf Coast, but the next morning, on the way to our work site, the scope of the tragedy became more apparent. Mile after mile of houses, churches, schools, and businesses had simply vanished. Occasional scattered tents in the neighborhoods testified to the determination of some residents to rebuild, though for many it will take years.

Helping with Katrina ReliefRelief centers throughout the area provided food, clothes and water to the volunteers and the residents who had returned. Our center at the Zuppardo's Bay Plaza assembled hundreds of food boxes which we distributed with basic necessities to local residents. I took it upon myself to talk with as many families as I could as they came through the line.

Tragic stories were repeated many times. One of the worst came from a lady who had her mother with her as they drove through for food supplies. The mother told me in the short space of a few weeks, she had lost her home to Katrina, her husband to cancer, had lost sight in one eye, and learned that her son had cancer. Another family who drove through with their young children in the car told how they made it to the second floor of their two story home only to watch in horror as the home of their next door elderly neighbors was swept away in the storm surge before their neighbors could evacuate.

I want to go back. The work is just beginning along the Gulf Coast and the Thanksgiving Day we enjoyed when we returned was a reminder of the hundreds of folks whose only shelter was a tent, sometimes housing multiple families. Again, visit www.foundationhope.net to see how you can join in.

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