Sixteen months after Hurricane Katrina tore across the southern coast there's still too many people there living in disaster-relief limbo.
Gladys Martin, 91, of Moss Point, Miss., is one of them. Her only wish this Christmas was to host dinner for her family, as she'd done since she and her late husband, Jerry, built their home together back in 1941.Katrina ravaged her home and left Martin and most of her family, including children and grandchildren, scattered and living in FEMA trailers for Christmas.
This fall, word of Martin's plight came to Annie Card, a Peterborough resident who lives and works now almost exclusively in Mississippi, running Mississippi Home Again, a non-profit relief organization that so far helped more than 500 families receive upwards of $750,000 in free appliances and beds, donated from individuals and organizations across the country. She and business co-founder Tammy Agard of Montana, met in October of 2005 during what was to be a short-term volunteer stint, assigned to the same Red Cross food service truck.
They saw an enormous need, beyond serving up warm meals, that wasn't being filled.What started for them as a knee-jerk reaction to the lack of tangible, meaningful help has grown into a bustling relief effort that includes a brand new supply warehouse that opened in September, home of their latest endeavor, Operation TLC Volunteer Center.Finding help for people such as Martin requires an army of volunteers, says Card, which come to her in small waves -- sometimes school or church groups, or crews sent by established organizations such as AmeriCorps.And sometimes, help comes through her New Hampshire connections.
Longtime friends Jeff and Wendy Boxer of Peterborough knew of Card's work in Mississippi, but had never been able to make a trip down to volunteer. They decided they could swing a long weekend in October, and called Card to tell her they were ready and willing to pitch in.Timing was ing. Card put the couple to work, priming and painting Martin's walls.
Gladys Martin stands with Jeff Boxer, left, and his wife, Wendy, outside her Moss Point, Miss., home. Despite their best efforts over the better part of their four-day mission, Martin was a guest for dinner at her daughter's home. She's still in limbo, waiting for floors, baseboards and electrical work. But the Boxers provided an important step on her road to recovery."I'm sorry to hear Gladys didn't have Christmas at her house," said Wendy Boxer a few days after the holiday. "That was our hope for her; that was her one wish."Boxer found it hard to believe that there was little progress for Martin since they left Mississippi in October."I've never installed a floor, but I'm willing to try. Jeff and I are planning to go back in February with my brother and another couple. If that's what she needs to get back into her house, that's what we'll do," she said. Card said she and Agard have learned much in the year since founding their grassroots organization."It's really been an education. One year later, and things here are more broken than they were right after the storm," Card said. "The needs are the same as they were then. This isn't rocket science. The solutions aren't easy, but they're simple." Since July, more than $1 million worth of donated goods, including appliances, beds, furniture, paint, windows, doors and other building materials, have been distributed by undaunted duo.Volunteers are in short supply."The good news is anyone who thinks they missed an opportunity to help can come right now and make a real difference," Card said. She said support from their home states has helped keep the project alive. During a recent trip home right before Christmas, Card shared her story with a group of Rotarians from Keene. As a result, 28 students from FranklinPierceCollege have been recruited by one of the members to travel to Mississippi to volunteer in March."I can't say enough about the difference people from New Hampshire are making here," Card said.