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Local volunteers help Katrina victims

By Lori O'Brien, Correspondent

CHICOPEE The sign reads "God Always Wins."

The message greets all who pass through the makeshift church in Lakeshore, MS, which is still recovering from the furor of Hurricane Katrina more than two years ago. Nineteen area residents, all members of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Chicopee, recently spent 11 days in scorching heat in Lakeshore to help make a difference in the lives of those still recovering from the Katrina devastation.

"We were working in 100-degree weather and almost 100 percent humidity," said Barbara Reynolds, a member of the church team who participated in the trip. Reynolds, a resident of West Springfield, is an administrative assistant at Providence Place in Holyoke. She also volunteers her time teaching Sunday School for fifth and sixth grade girls at the church.

"It is very important to show God's love, mercy and compassion as it has been shown to me," she said, remarking about her involvement in various community activities.

Reynolds spoke highly of Pastor Don A. Elbourne Jr. of Lakeshore Baptist Church who spends his days organizing the efforts of those who travel from all parts of the country to lend a helping hand with the cleanup efforts.

During an interview with Reminder Publications, Reynolds said her church group, which consisted of 13 teens and six adults, traveled to Lakeshore in early July as part of a yearly trip organized by youth pastor Bryan Olden.

"Each year our youth pastor prays about where he should take his group of teens in service to the Lord," she said. "Each year God puts places in need on his heart. This year he was led to contact Lakeshore Baptist Church."

Reynolds said the group traveled to Lakeshore, agreeing to do whatever was asked of them by Elbourne.

"We painted trailers and sheds and did staining projects, as well as worked in the food distribution center and cleared a 100' x 100' plot of jungle for an elderly woman so she could pour a foundation," said Reynolds.

Reynolds and several of her team members were also assigned kitchen duty for five days which included organizing and preparing meals for approximately 140 volunteers a day. She noted they made "hearty breakfasts" each morning for the work teams and tried to be creative for the other meals using whatever was available in the refrigerator and freezer that had been donated.

"It was challenging and fun," she added.

Their largest and most challenging project, however, was a two-day work assignment along with a group from Washington that included clearing a wooded lot that was rumored to have poisonous snakes lurking in the brush. Reynolds admits she and others had apprehensions about working the land but forged ahead with two dull machetes, two hand-held hedge clippers and two loppers.

"With 100 percent humidity, the bug spray was running into our eyes," she said. "On the second day, we had a chain saw which improved the working conditions."

Reynolds emphasized that all of her team members were reminded how "blessed" they are after viewing the massive damage that every home and building in Lakeshore sustained.

"It blows my mind that after almost two years that some people still do not have homes to live in," she said. "These people lost everything."

Another sobering moment was when the team learned that the MASH unit area in which they were residing in had been submerged in 41 feet of water during the wrath of Katrina. Sleeping quarters for the women consisted of bunk beds in a converted truck trailer (without the wheels), while the men were set up in Quonset huts.

It was out of desire to help those in need that brought the 19 volunteers from the region together to help the residents of Lakeshore, according to Reynolds. Participants in addition to Olden, Reynolds and her husband Richard, were Wayne Harris, a member of the U.S. Marines, Peter Porowski, Darlene Howell, Jodie Murray, Jamie Murray, Heather Whitacre, Corey Whitacre, Matthew Whitacre, Kyle Hines, Austin Plante, Ryan Chlosta, Alex Harris, Erik Picard, Emily Robets, Yelna Simmons and Billy Fontaine.

Individuals interested in more information on the rebuilding efforts of Lakeshore can visit Pastor Elbourne also posts updates on his blog, "Locusts and Wild Honey," and can be reached at