More evacuees flow into Sulphur Springs
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Two large busloads of hurricane evacuees were transferred to Wesley United Methodist Church on Saturday from Dallas and Houston. Exhausted and hungry, they enjoyed a fresh meal that was ready for them as soon as they arrived. 
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

Sept. 6, 2005 - It’s 5:30 a.m., and the floor of Wesley United Methodist Church Family Life Center is covered with air mattresses.

Cots and more air mattresses are also in the Sunday School rooms and meeting rooms on both floors of the building to make sleeping a bit more comfortable for the 131 people who survived Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed in the New Orleans area.

As the lights begin to come on about 6 a.m., these refugees begin waking and clearing the floor for the day’s activities that begin with a breakfast, prepared by volunteers in the church kitchen.

There is very little grumbling, few complaints as those now living in the emergency shelter area are joined by another 70 people who are still living in area motels for meals and visits by doctors, nurses, dentists and others.

The numbers of refugees from the storm that wrecked New Orleans swelled over the weekend in Sulphur Springs after two busloads arrived at the shelter Saturday. Many were transferred from Houston to Dallas to Sulphur Springs, and were greeted with hot showers and a welcome meal.

Hopkins County Sheriff’s Corrections Officer Tonya Carrell (front) and HCSO Cpl. Michele Baptiste check the bags of evacuees as they arrive at Wesley United Methodist Church on Saturday. Many evacuees, who had been transferred from Houston to Dallas to Sulphur Springs, were excited and thankful to be  able to get a shower and a meal.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

They group around televisions, watching for news about their homes and, for some, news of family members. Others pore over newspapers while making regular visits to bulletin boards where messages from families looking for members are posted, along with information about possible employment and housing.

This has become a daily routine as these people struggle to put their lives together and plan for the future. For many, there is no home to go back to and no job.

At the same time, volunteers around the clock continue at an almost frantic pace to make sure all the needs are met. There are phones to be answered and forms to be filled out for state and federal emergency response agencies, according to Bonnie Gilmer, public information officer at the Wesley UMC Hurricane Katrina shelter.

�Texas Workforce Commission is on site along the with Department of Human Services,� she said. �A lot of the local businesses are trying to provide jobs. There are a lot of opportunities.�

Of the more than 130 now living in the shelter, there are children who are being enrolled in school.

�We have been cooperating with Sulphur Springs ISD to get the children in school and the school buses are running,� Gilmer said. �It has been going very well.�

Of the many and varied needs of those in the shelter, they are being met through donations, contributions and efforts of the residents of Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County.

�We could not have done it without the people of the community,� Gilmer said. �They have just stepped up and have done anything we wanted them to do, to meet ever need that we have had.�

And the response has been more than just adequate.

�We have been overwhelmed with people wanting to help in donating food, clothing or supplies,� she said. �It has been fantastic.�

After the initial rush to get the basic needs met, shelter workers were completing inventories Tuesday of donated food and clothing.

The only current need is cash and phone cards that will enable people to make calls to locate family and friends, as well as to determine if their homes are still standing and the status of their employment.

Gilmer asked that donations be withheld until specific needs are identified. Requests will be made through radio, television and the newspaper.

�We have been so overwhelmed, and that is a good thing, but we have got to assess our needs, see where we are and see what we need,� she explained.

Not only have donations of food and clothing exceeded needs, but the numbers of people lining up to volunteer to work at the shelter is, in a way, creating a problem.

�We have had so many that want to help, and we appreciate it, but they have to realize we have to work through all of that,� she said. �That is why the Web page was set up [], for people to go into the Web page and volunteer. That way, we can access the list, and we have coordinators who will call people and ask them for help and put them on the schedule. We have had so much, it�s just been overwhelming.�

For people who do not have Internet access, information about volunteering can be obtained by calling 2-1-1 and specifying interest in helping in Sulphur Springs. The 2-1-1 Texas Information and Referral Network, operated locally by Hopkins County Community Action Network, helps people access information about services, such as where to find food, clothing, shelter and a host of other resources. 

Gilmer said the immediate response has been great, but cautioned that the need is not for a short period of time. It may take many weeks and months before many of the refugees can return home or find a new home. Help from the community will be needed throughout that time.

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