BY SHEILA OJENDYK
NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — Catholic Charities recently held a “Home Away from Home” reunion party at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church for people who had to evacuate to the area because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Daryl Kangarloo, Catholic Charities’ Pee Dee region client advocate, said the staff had noticed a number of clients with addresses on the same streets.
One client even had the surprise of running into a former neighbor at the local Wal-Mart.
The staff of Catholic Charities decided the evacuees needed some time to relax, reconnect with friends, meet fellow evacuees and make some new friends.
The party guests were welcomed to a great spread, contributed by church parishioners, and the back-home sound of Dixieland jazz.
Representatives from Catholic Charities and the Red Cross met evacuees and told them how they could help.
“We had a lot of people come here who’ve gotten jobs already. Our county and our area have really opened their arms,” said Angie Nicholas, executive director of the Coastal South Carolina Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Michael Vereen and his wife Leatha Jackson of Algiers, La., said they spent the night of Hurricane Katrina at his sister’s home five miles away. When they returned to check on their house after the storm, they had to wade through waist-deep water, hoping not to encounter any snakes along the way.
“It looked like an explosion had hit the area,” Jackson said.
Their roof had caved in, and the rooms were filled with broken sheetrock and insulation. The couple plans to return because they own their home, but Vereen said that if they were renting, it would be a different story.
Vereen added that they were blessed because nobody in their family was hurt by the hurricane and that their home was material and could be replaced.
Lisa and Ed Colomb had to evacuate from their New Orleans home at 4 a.m. the morning the levee broke, and sought refuge in Baton Rouge, La. Their daughter is a student at the University of South Carolina, so they decided to come here and rent a condo on the Grand Strand.
All known Gulf state evacuees were invited to the event. By the day of the party, a number of them were already on their way back home.
Catholic Charities is serving approximately 150 clients from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Diane Bullard, regional coordinator, said that Catholic Charities is the only agency that provides long-term case management.
The mission of the Red Cross is preparation and response. When the Red Cross completes its mission, its records will be turned over to agencies such as Catholic Charities.
“We’ll be working with some of these families for years,” Bullard said. “As long as they need us, we’ll be there.”