Workers recall mission |

Workers recall mission

Area volunteers speak about New Orleans trip

— The images of devastation and feelings of hope still are fresh in the minds of five Hayden Congregational Church members who visited New Orleans on a relief mission in March.

They shared their experiences during church services Sunday morning, and the 215 photos they showed brought some parishioners and mission workers to tears.

“You really don’t know where to start,” said Ralph Babish, who went on the nine-day trip with his wife, Janet Babish, who is the church’s pastor. “It’s kind of overwhelming.”

The group left for New Orleans on March 16 with a trailer full of supplies and tools. They knew where they were staying and that they would be helping people clean out their houses. A group from Craig also went to help. Steamboat Pilot and Today reporter Melinda Mawdsley and Craig Daily Press photographer Michelle Perry documented their trips and told stories about people in New Orleans.

Hope was a recurring theme during Sunday’s church service. The congregation sang a hymn with a line that seemed to resonate with the mission workers. “Though your talents may be meager, offer up the things you can,” the congregation sang.

A lot of the volunteers’ work entailed gutting houses in which mold had set in. Wearing respirators and paper suits, they helped strip Deborah Smith’s house and removed the noxious mold.

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“It’s not just lungs you have to worry about,” mission worker Betty Barnes said. “It’s skin and everything.”

Two small containers held the salvaged personal items recovered from Smith’s home.

“It’s just amazing what one single act can do to turn your life upside down,” Smith said in a letter to the mission workers. “You guys did a wonderful and unselfish thing.”

One of the group’s strongest memories was seeing a family sitting on the rooftop of their flattened home. They showed a picture of the family singing from their destroyed home, optimistic about the future of New Orleans.

“They had come back to their place, their home, and they were all together,” mission worker Connie Todd said.

One picture showed an 80-foot shrimp boat sitting at the end of a street in St. Bernard Parish, with no water in sight.

The group also saw an electrical fire destroy a damaged home. Janet Babish remembers trying to find street signs so she could give the fire department the address. Helicopters flew overhead with buckets of water.

“We just don’t see things like this in Hayden,” Betty Barnes said. “We saw three helicopters come with water in case it spread.”

Many of the church members shared their New Orleans connections and stories.

Hayden resident Avis Funk watched news coverage of recovery efforts in New Orleans but said she thought it was important to hear the stories from people she knew.

“It’s a different angle for them to share it,” Funk said.

“They’re our family and they did a wonderful job,” Hayden resident Phyllis Moore said.

— To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210

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