When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Patricia Spears and her daughter, Christine, fled to the New Orleans Convention Center, floating through the streets by boat and then by a National Guard truck. "We spent two days at the convention center," Patricia Spears said. "There was no food, no water, no place to sleep. We did not get any sleep." Then, the mother and daughter were brought to a senior citizens' high-rise, 20 blocks from the convention center, where a helicopter picked them up and brought them to the New Orleans Airport. They flew to Chattanooga, Tenn., where Patricia Spears’ brother-in-law and sister met them. "They drove from Leesburg to Chattanooga to get us," Patricia Spears said.
Spears’ brother-in-law, David Golden, works for the National Health Initiative, based out of New Orleans. "We are working with Katrina victims," Golden said. "It is a good opportunity for us to help with housing." Golden came to The Good Shepherd Alliance, a faith-based organization in Leesburg, on Tuesday, to meet other Katrina volunteers.
GOOD SHEPHERD ALLIANCE Director of Social Services Janice King said there has been an overwhelming response by the Loudoun County community toward Hurricane Katrina victims in the area. "We are trying to find everyone somewhere to sleep and get them back on their feet again," King said.
Four weeks ago, Patricia and Christine Spears moved to the Towne Place Suites Marriott in Leesburg. "I miss home," Christine Spears said. "I am glad I am here." The Good Shepherd Alliance and community church members are working together to make everyone feel at home.
Suzy Harding, Leesburg’s St. James Church outreach committee chair, works with The Good Shepherd Alliance to find services and material goods for the homeless.
"The Good Shepherd Alliance is a nice central place for all of us to come together," Harding said. "That way we do not miss anyone who needs help. We do not want anyone to get overlooked."
Harding receives hundreds of e-mails a day, from people who want to provide services for the hurricane victims. "We are trying to work on unique needs," Harding said. "The other day, I received an e-mail from a licensed counselor offering free counseling sessions for Katrina victims."
Services like these are extremely important. "We are in need of counselors," said Good Shepherd Alliance board chair Joy Trickett. "We have a man in the area who lost his wife in the hurricane, another family who has a father in Korea, another man just got back from Iraq with nowhere to go home to. That has to be hard to deal with."
Harding said that single-level dwellings are also in demand. "Many older people need single-level houses, which are hard to find in this area," Harding said.
In addition to answering e-mails, Harding coordinates dinners for families. "You can only eat out so much," Harding said. "We want to bring families lasagna, chicken casseroles, real home cooking."
HURRICANE KATRINA has drawn the community together. "Different people have a lot of different gifts," said Mary Fittro, Good Shepherd Alliance thrift store manager. Hurricane Katrina victims in Loudoun County may receive vouchers to exchange for goods at the Good Shepherd Alliance in Sterling. "People can come in and pick what they want and feel comfortable, just like they are shopping," she said.
The Good Shepherd Alliance is working with local organizations to house Katrina victims. "When people are in trauma, a place of your own is so important," Trickett said. Victims of Hurricane Katrina receive furniture and care packages from the thrift store and local churches. "We want people to pick out what they like and prepare for the future, start their lives again," Kind said.
The Good Shepherd Alliance has teamed up with Axiom Staffing Group, to find jobs for the new members of Loudoun County. "When you are preparing for your future, a job is an important part," Trickett said. Local branch manager Scott White said there are more than 300 job openings in Loudoun County right now. "We definitely want to be able to support people," he said. The staffing group offers temporary, as well as temporary-to-hire work. "We have it all," White said.
LOUDOUN COUNTY is working together to support victims of Hurricane Katrina. Everyone’s situation is different, and many services are needed in order for people to rebuild their lives in Virginia. The Good Shepherd Alliance is a good meeting place and resource center for those who want to volunteer their time or services. "Everyone in the community is talking to each other," Harding said. "It is not about who is doing what. We are doing it together. It really takes the whole community."