Diane, on the left, and Annie went to New Orleans this year to help the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Isaac.
Tears came to Annie Zupfer’s eyes when she talked about her mission trip from Hector to New Orleans to help the victims of hurricane Katrina and Isaac. But those tears were happy tears coming from her eyes as she looked back on the people she helped and how appreciative they were.
Annie went to New Orleans from April 13 through April 21 with another Hectorite, Diane Drager, through a team called River Bend Mission. It all started with a phone call from Annie’s son, Louis Lanie, who said, “You had mentioned you wanted to go on a mission trip … well now’s your chance.” That was last year. Annie told her son, “If you go again, call me.”
“So that’s why I went this time. It’s just a wonderful experience,” she said.
Diane retired from teaching last spring and has been on mission trips before. Her husband, David, is the minister at the United Methodist Church in Hector. After talking to her son, Annie talked at church about having somebody go with her on this mission trip to New Orleans, and Diane immediately said, “I will go.”
“Because I have enjoyed mission trips and haven’t been to New Orleans, I thought it would be a great experience,” Diane said. There were 25 people, mostly from Minnesota, with this mission team. It was the River Bend’s seventh year of doing mission work and their twelfth trip to New Orleans.
According to the website at www.epworthproject.com, the greater New Orleans area has endured two major hurricanes (Katrina in 2005 and Isaac in 2012) in the past eight years leaving thousands homeless and in great need. Most people are well aware of the damage caused by Katrina, but most are not aware of the more than 40,000 homes that were damaged by Isaac exactly seven years to the day after Katrina struck.
Diane and Annie were under the direction of an organization called Epworth Project that is located in a city called Slidell, 30 miles across a lake from New Orleans where most of the damage was done by Hurricane Isaac because of the new levees that were built in New Orleans.
Epworth Project exists to keep volunteers from around the country mobilized so that the families in the New Orleans area will not be forgotten. Epworth’s goal is to provide basic needs for those living in unfit conditions, whether the conditions are hurricane related or not. In addition to assisting disaster victims, Epworth Project assists the low income and elderly with home repairs and builds handicapped ramps for disabled citizens. According to Drager, the whole purpose of Epworth project is to try to rebuild these homes and to give these people a safe place to live.
“We spent our five days working on various remodeling and rebuilding projects,” said Drager. “Our group was broken into four teams. Our first project was two homes that were side-by-side, and they were nearly finished. We just finished them up with final painting, some plumbing, cleaning and other odd jobs,” she said.
“Then we got to go to a house that a young couple were living in, a shell actually. The windows were out and boarded up. The siding had been pulled off and new outer walls were being built. They had no electricity or water. They had the studs up so you could see where the rooms were going to be, and they were living there. There was no furniture. They had to sleep on the mattress on the floor, and their clothes were in baskets. In one area they did have a microwave and a little toaster oven. They got electricity by running an extension cord to their neighbors. The saddest part is they had a 5-year-old daughter who was taken away from them. They can’t get her back until they have running water and electricity. You think – this storm hit last August, and this is how they are still living? It is heartbreaking. We were very fortunate to meet them and to work with them and help them. It was very humbling,” Drager said.
“Then there was another group that worked all week laying tile on a huge, huge building that was a homeless shelter for men, and it housed a clothing store and a food shelf. They were down on their hands and knees doing tile all week.”
“One group worked on a women’s shelter. They were putting in a false ceiling. They finished that project.”
The last place they worked on was at a home quite a ways out in the swamp area, and they were doing sheet rocking. It was interesting to see the homes that had been rebuilt according to code and had to be raised on 10 or 12-foot stilts. Building them on stilts cost three times more than remodeling.
Diane and Annie heard about another story of a young man who had received some chickens, and he wanted a chicken coop. The volunteers took some of the scrap wood that they had and they helped this young man build a chicken coop. He was in tears. He was so emotional and appreciative that people would take the time to do that.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said Annie. “If anyone gets a chance they should take advantage and go just to realize how very lucky we are. We are called to help other people. We may not think our home is the best, but we have a home, it’s warm; it’s safe; it’s dry; we have food, and we have a bed.”
“One picture that will stay with me forever,” said Diane, “is the inside of that house that just had the studs. People living there and their daughter was taken from them. It was very humbling. A neighbor lady came over. We were sitting in lawn chairs and eating our lunch, and she came over with a bag of Hershey kisses and then she jumped right in and helped us. She had been flooded too.”
Not everybody who volunteers is a Christian. It is easy to give money and think, “There I did my part.” But Epworth Project needs volunteers — bodies to work. It is very hard work. It was hot and sweaty down there while it was cold up here. Diane said they were exhausted at the end of each day. “We would start at 8 a.m. and usually back to our quarters by 5 p.m. One day we worked until 6 p.m. It was a full seven to eight hour day. We took sack lunches.”
A lot of people wonder why they don’t just leave the New Orleans area because you worry about when the next hurricane will come. The problem is they have no place to go. They have no family, friends or money to go elsewhere.
Annie summarized her trip by saying: “You look at it from a different angle. Once you’ve been there, you are going to be more willing to help and go there. It is very rewarding.”