Put down your tools, stop working and listen is the advice Wilma Dalby received when she went to D'Iberville, Miss. to aid Hurricane Katrina victims.
"The victims all need to tell their stories over and over again," Dalby said.
"As much work as we offer, the notion that people do care and that there is hope is important," Dalby said, tearing up as she recalls her week in D'Iberville at the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance camp.
The camp was located on one side of a ball field. People living in the Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers on the opposite side of the field would sometimes play baseball in the hot, humid evenings.
Among the storm refugees, was a mother and her 46-year-old autistic son whose modest home was completely destroyed.
FEMA had put the two in a tiny trailer.
A person with autism needs space to call their own and continuity.
"Her son was quite distraught," Dalby said.
"If you think about it, here is a woman who has had to cope with very little money to get by through life taking care of her son.
"If we see someone like that here, we say, oh, that's a hard life. Then add to it, taking away everything that you have ..."
Just before Dalby left, FEMA gave the two a larger trailer and the son is doing better now.
"It gets to me how unfair things play out for people sometimes," Dalby said. "But that is when other people have an opportunity to help."
Dalby wondered if she could help at age 72.
Then she heard Pastor Charles Proudfoot announce in church one day that the Grand Canyon Presbytery was organizing a group to lend a hand in the disaster zone.
Clerical skills were needed for the effort.
Dalby, a retired secretary with 43 years experience, immediately saw a way she could help.
She paid for her own flight and joined 200 other relief workers, from all faiths and all walks of life for a week at the camp of wooden boxes covered with mosquito netting built by SEABEES.
"Out of Chaos, Hope" is the camp's motto.
There are 10 PDA camps up and down the Gulf Coast, but D'Iberville, a few miles inland from Biloxi, Miss., was lucky in that two of its citizens stepped up to make a difference, Dalby said.
Psychologist Irene McIntosh and marine biologist Ed Cake went to each homestead in the community to catalog what was needed rather than waiting for victims to come to them.
At the camp, volunteer teams are organized to cook, clean, build steps, paint, hang drywall, serve meals, sort donated clothing, help a family sort through the rubble of their home for items they can salvage and any other chore assigned.
The "work camp villages" will have a reduced influx of labor as schools go into session again, but the work individual hands do is "so important" Dalby said.
Multiply her one set of hands by 200 people and then multiply the result by 10 camps and there were 2,000 little things done in the week.
"We are truly able in a small way to bring hope to folks who have survived our worst national disaster," Dalby said.
How to help
- If you are sending clothing, it must be clean, like new and wrapped in a plastic Ziploc bag that is labeled for size and gender. Otherwise it will probably be thrown away because there very often no way to keep it clean and organized until it can be delivered to the people in need.
- Go to a department store or home store and buy gift cards in small denominations and send them to work camps or your service organization contact.
- If you want to donate "stuff" contact Kiwanis or Rotary in the disaster area because that person can tell what is needed at that time.