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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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WAVELAND, Miss.—When the Morrell Foundation came to Katrina’s ground zero they hoped to provide temporary housing for those displaced by the storm. That didn’t work out—politics prevented it—but the good news is that they had a Plan B.

That’s the way it often works in the world of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and otherwise seat-of-the-pants aid groups. They arrive, they find a niche, they do a lot of horse-trading, and they make a difference. Ask anyone.

Plan B, in the case of Morrell, a private foundation out of Salt Lake City, Utah, is construction of a large bunkhouse near the Waveland waterfront aimed at providing long-term housing for volunteers for the rebuilding of the area, an effort they figure will take years.

“We saw that there were volunteers wanting to come in droves, but there’s no place for them to stay,” says Colin Forbes, the operations manager for this project, who came over to the foundation from the corporate side, Morrell International. “We decided to provide a comfortable place to house volunteers – years worth of volunteers to this community.”

Faith that it will work

On a land concession provided by the state, the foundation is just weeks from opening the first dormitory near the beach at Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, to house up to 200 people at a time. The cement slab and steel frame were all constructed in one day.

As the building is under way, Forbes and others are still trying to figure out the details—how long any given group could stay, and how many from any given group. They don’t yet know for sure how the long-term finances will be structured. They simply have faith that it will work out, in the end.

At the same site, Morrell is nearing completion of a laundry and shower facility for locals, and has set up a massive tent for community functions, including the recent “Christmas on the Beach” and a car-to-car “trunk or treat” Halloween party for local kids.

Their progress is striking against this bleak landscape, where remaining questions about flood elevations prevent most people from rebuilding houses.

It is also a stark contrast to the large, lumbering government processes of delivering FEMA trailers, cleaning up the waste and otherwise aiding individuals and businesses. While those processes are seen as workmanlike at best, there seems to be universal appreciation here for the little groups that have come in, rolled up their sleeves, and figured out a way to help.

To be sure, the NGOs interface all the time with the government—taking requests, and benefiting from the use of facilities such as warehouses and equipment—but they don’t seem to be burdened with the bureaucracy.

Crisis mode

While a few groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, stay to themselves, and serve largely their own members in the disaster stricken area, many approach the situation in a non-denominational crisis mode.

Morrell, which has some $750,000 invested here, has also relied heavily on the cooperation of scrappy little relief and church groups, and individual volunteers who showed up on their own steam. A group from New Hope Baptist cleared the grounds. Adventist Community Services, a disaster response team sponsored by the Seventh Day Adventist Church is pitching in, as is a New Life group out of Florida, and non-church groups such as Mercy Corps. There are dozens of individuals and small volunteer groups who pitch in wherever they see a need.

“We’re deeply spiritual,” says Forbes, who was raised in the Church of Latter Day Saints, but says he is not a practicing Mormon. “But we’ll work with anyone who wants to work.”

They move quickly. At a meeting just a few days ago, someone proposed bringing in a mobile sawmill to cut the downed pine trees into lumber, after they were killed by the salty flood waters. Already, someone in California has offered to donate the equipment.

Matching supplies to demand

International Aid, a faith based group from Spring Lake, Mich., has fewer than 25 staff and volunteers on the ground for Katrina. But, it plays a critical role running the primary distribution site for donated goods to Katrina’s victims. For two weeks after Katrina, the group worked out of a half-built Old Navy store in Hattiesburg, Miss., just north of the hurricane’s path.

Sandy Molenhouse, director of church relations at International Aid, is an uber-networker. Among her most recent triumphs was replacing the dying refrigerators at a clinic in Pearlington. The new units were donated appliances from an Alabama warehouse that was about to shut down, having fulfilled its emergency role. Through International Aid, the replacement refrigerators made it to the clinic before its vaccines and other medicine went bad.

Shifting needs

As Molenhouse threads her way through stacks of donated sweatshirts, pants and sneakers, she fields phone calls from donors and seekers. She has some forklifts on offer, she tells someone at Morrell. Do they need them to move debris, she wonders? She thanks them profusely for installing hot showers at the warehouse where International Aid has its temporary quarters.

Since Katrina, she says, the demand has been constantly, constantly shifting. Part of their role is conveying the current needs to donors.

“For awhile it was non perishable food, water, and hygiene kits. Then suddenly it was cleaning products,” she says.

Last week, temperatures dropped suddenly, dipping below 40 degrees at night after a spell of 100 degree heat, creating an urgent need for warm bedding for the many people still sleeping in tents.

Within a few days, International Aid got some blankets shipped from corporations, some from a larger warehouse in Jackson, Miss., and some handmade quilts made by some of the ladies back in Michigan.

“I keep saying we’re constructing the plane while we’re flying it,” says Molenhouse.

In a place that desperately needs to reinvent itself, that’s a spirit that seems to provide hope.

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Great article! Finally the truth comes out. I was in the area working (sawing up fallen trees) with a faith-based group (CrossRoads Missions) a few weeks ago, and what we constantly heard from the locals was, "If it weren't for church groups like yours, we'd have no help at all." I guess the big boys (Red Cross, et al) were there somewhere doing something, but I didn't see it. What I saw was that you couldn't go past a standing church where there weren't tents set up, or pallets full of relief items being distributed.

Thanks to these good people but how did they get a building permit in Waveland when the city refuses them to residents?

Its great that there is coverage on the Morrell foundation, its taken alot of hard work from the volunteers. We have helped build it from the ground up and its comming together. Im one of the leaders that brings the groups out from all over the US to help with Morrell and to help with the community.

I was in waveland yesterday with a group of volunters who are serving children. The Morell foundation opened its doors even though there was still work to be done. I thank God for their hearts of service and all who support them. Our volunteer teams of 20 or more will be staying with them the next 10 weeks. Waveland is a wonderful city that deserves our full support!

I am touch with your works. Praise to the Lord who sending you guys to ease the burden of those who needs help so much. Great work! Congratulations~
May God bless you all who involved in these good deeds.

This was great. Thank you.

This is the time to rebuild but not to standards which were all right before Katrina, but higher and better. It isn't a clcihe, but rather an opportunity for the area to improve their lives and enviroment.

One thought would be is to take all the rubbish from
Katrina, encase it in concrete and sink it in the Gulf many yards away from the beach to act as a reef to fend off future storm surges and/or rebuild levees that would direct tidal surges into the Bay.

What do they say about Lemons and Lemonaide?

FEMA and Red Cross are fakes...

there is no other reason to not believe that we are jehovah's servants and that we have the holy spirit working within us. he is there for us and we give him back our thankfulness by using our physical energies.

What a wonderful way to support the future rebuilding of this great community!! My husband and I hope to spend our vacation time in 2006 to help this rebuilidng process. "Voluntourism" is a wonderful way to meet the needs of this great area. Keep up this great project and God bless your efforts.

way to go my dear bro and sis over there. i am rowie from new zealand and hope will remember you all in our prayers, stay strong and remember jah undeserved kindness.

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