US students toil on Katrina relief for spring break

Alternet, Reuters

Thursday 9 March 2006, 3:12 pm

By Jeffrey Jones

PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss., March 6 (Reuters) - It isn't the spring-break beach holiday most U.S. college students dream of, but with the shore still strewn with wreckage and homes in shambles from Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast is the destination of choice for thousands.

College kids from across the United States have answered the call to forsake March parties in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in favor of fixing and cleaning homes, schools and community centers in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Their holiday accommodation is a wind-battered auditorium jammed with cots and sleeping bags.

7,000 students have been marshaled by Campus Crusade for Christ. The United Way and MTV are sending 100 spring breakers to Biloxi and Foley, Alabama. Many students are paying their own way and some have held pledge drives to fund trips to sites where the work is hard and accommodations spartan.

The temporary influx in Pass Christian, a town of 6,500 people, has created few problems for locals despite scant resources, said Lieut. Greg Federico of the Harrison Country Sheriff's Dept. Many displaced residents still live in green military tents. "It means extra hands. And we absolutely need any help," he said. In fact, students began arriving just after Katrina and "they've been just working their butts off."

About 60 miles (100 km) west in New Orleans, where some neighborhoods remain in a state of suspended ruin, grassroots aid group Common Ground Relief expects 1,000-2,000 students to join its cleanup and community relief work in poor areas.