God's Katrina Kitchen

Christianity Today

Monday 27 February 2006, 1:32 pm

by Deann Alford

On August 29, Katrina made landfall just west of Pass Christian (pronounced "Christy Ann") on Mississippi's coast. The 30-foot storm surge killed 22 people, destroyed nearly all business property, and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the town's homes. Pass Christian is one of the communities most devastated by Katrina. By January, only 1,500 of Pass Christian's 6,500 residents remained. The rest are scattered nationwide, joining 2 million other hurricane refugees across America.

Pass Christian's government is in tatters. Like virtually all Pass Christian residents, city leaders suffered grave personal loss. City Hall is now in a doublewide trailer. The storm set back the city 150 years, to its early days as a rustic resort area. Little of the tax base remains, nor does any meaningful employment beyond contract work for cleanup and debris removal.

The Red Cross has left town, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has scaled back. Other major agencies, such as the Salvation Army, are often outmatched by the size and complexity of the needs.

Greg Porter, who had cooked for an inner-city ministry, stepped into the hunger gap. His church, Christian Fellowship, provided supplies. He and his team of five drove a mobile kitchen from Indiana to Pass Christian, arriving September 14. They set up on a median and turn lane of crippled Interstate 90. Their first meal provided 125 free hamburgers.

After Hurricane Rita passed by, crews moved to a city-owned lot, which is now filled with donated refrigerated trailers, storage containers, and a big tent dining room. Their canopied kitchen includes industrial-grade appliances that create meals from food shipped from across the nation, all of which is donated. An Evansville radio station has solicited volunteers for the operation. In late October, a station broadcaster christened it "God's Katrina Kitchen." Its motto is posted at the entrance: "Not One Church, But One God."

Kitchen crews daily serve 1,500 hot breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to residents, relief workers, police, road repairmen, soldiers from Biloxi's heavily damaged Keesler Air Force Base, and anybody else who's hungry—free of charge, no id required. A donation box sits by the serving line.

God's Katrina Kitchen includes a clothing center, a food pantry, and tables with Bibles and Christian literature. Volunteers who distribute food and clothing often share the gospel with those receiving aid. Nightly worship services feature music and speakers from across America.

Until mid-December, the Colbys ate supper several times weekly at God's Katrina Kitchen. Pastor Colby found that both victims and volunteers bore a heavy emotional load. He labels it "Katrina brain." But the summer camp-like environment at God's Katrina Kitchen provides a daily occasion for people to break bread and talk about what they face.

The collaboration between Christian groups has impressed Pass Christian's politicians. Christians represent 95 percent of relief volunteers, said Lou Rizzardi, Pass Christian's Ward 1 alderman who coordinates them.

Crusade volunteers share the gospel with every family they help. Nonbelievers are far more receptive to the message after seeing faith in action.

DEET-resistent gnats, more prevalent than ever, leave welts that itch and sting weeks later. Razor wire, used to block roads immediately after the storm, remains strewn along railroad tracks. Dreamlike morning fog that rolls over the community might seem romantic if it didn't envelop a vision from hell. Cleanup alone will take two years. Rebuilding Pass Christian will take much longer.

University Crusade groups and ten Christmas Conference gatherings nationwide have promoted spring-break work trips to the region. Rick Amos, Crusade's Katrina relief coordinator, told CT that during spring break, "There will be just as much evangelism in Pass Christian and New Orleans as there will be in Panama City [Florida]."