Mucking offers storm relief

Ironwood, MI Daily Globe

Thursday 22 December 2005, 6:00 pm

by Diane Montz

A week spent mucking out flooded homes in Mississippi's Gulf Coast communities changed the lives of both storm victims and volunteers from Cornerstone Church.

"We've been changed," said Lois Tauer, one of eight people from the Ramsay church who traveled south in a two-vehicle caravan Nov. 4-13. "I know I've been changed. It changes you -- not that it has to, but you'd have to be awful hard-hearted not to be changed."

Otto Jensen, youth pastor at Cornerstone, said their ministry was simple. Wearing masks and double gloves, the volunteers hauled the contents of flood-ravaged homes to the curb. They emptied refrigerators untouched for 10 weeks. They removed sodden carpeting, sagging ceilings and moldy drywall.

They stripped homes down to a skeleton of 2-by-4 lumber framing enclosed by exterior siding on top of a concrete slab. In addition to the stench of mold, rotting upholstery and food, they encountered cockroaches and lizards. When the mucking crew was done, the pressure-washed, bleached interiors of the home looked like new construction, Rice said.

Gulfport's Church of the Good Shepherd provided a home for the Cornerstone volunteers, furnished with army cots and one shower for 10 people. Free lunch at a FEMA tent, where the food included Southern regional cuisine, helped the volunteers cut their out-of-pocket costs.

It was hard work that required no particular training. "We weren't a crew of highly specialized people," Jensen said. "We were housewives, a youth pastor, students."

Working in Long Beach, Pass Christian, Waveland and Gulfport, they gained skills on the job. "We can muck out a house," Tami Rice said. Jensen noted, "We're good at the destruction phase."

Because there was no power in the houses they were mucking out, work days ended around 5 p.m. when it got dark. The workers were too tired to do much more than clean up, eat, talk about their day and share devotions before turning in for the night.