Local donations reach Louisiana

Jillian Kramer

Eva Joy Smith, Christ Church prayer coordinator, helps New Orleans evacuee Marcelo Gonzales, 6, sort through a box of school supplies donated by Ravenna Brown Middle School. The church, located in West Monroe, La., currently provides shelter for the Gonza

Credit: Steve Schirra

The owners of the Way Cafe, their family, helpers and friends loaded up their trailer, truck, Winnebago and van and put the finishing touches on their vehicles by painting and hoisting signs in support of Hurricane Katrina victims.

With over 500 boxes of donated goods, Jack and Christine Keller, Daniel Canfield, Ron Haynes, Joe Hoefler, Roger Stevens, Robert Justice and Rami Daud were ready to go to Monroe, La. They left for the four-day trip on Sept. 18.

“Charities kept asking people to send money,” Jack Keller said. “But I kept seeing people without water, babies dehydrating, old people suffering. I knew I wanted to do something, so I just prayed about it.”

Jack said he was led to search through Monroe, a place he had gone hunting as a child with his father. Together, Jack and Christine began calling churches in Monroe to see how they could help. The first church they were able to reach was the Christ Church in West Monroe.

“This church didn’t have hurricane damage, but they were taking in hurricane victims,” Christine Keller said.

With over 3,000 evacuees on its property and in an opened State Farm Insurance office, the Christ Church of West Monroe had its hands full, Christine said.

“The church was getting plans together to enlarge their sanctuary and had bought empty houses in the surrounding area (to be torn down) so that they could expand,” Christine said. “Instead, they put their building plans on hold for the evacuees and fixed up the homes for them – furnished them, got the utilities hooked up. They even took pictures of the families so that when they moved into the houses, they’d have a picture and it would feel more like home.”

The Kellers put the word out to their customers at the Way Cafe and the surrounding community to donate anything and everything, Christine said. Two weeks and more boxes than they could count later, the couple and the six others loaded their vehicles and left for Louisiana.

“It was a long, hard trip,” said Daniel Canfield, who drove the van for the majority of the trip. “God was watching us, though.”

God was especially watching when they got a flat tire on the way down, Canfield said.

“We got pulled over near Cincinnati,” Christine said. “We just had a flat tire and the trooper was very nice and even helped change our tire. We had to look like one mixed-up bag of nuts.”

The group drove straight through to Louisiana and surprised the Christ Church with the amount of donations they had brought with them, Christine said.

“They were so amazed at all we had brought down,” Christine said. “They wanted to know when all the vehicles would be empty. We filled their gymnasium with donations.”

The church members helped unload the donations for a couple hours, Christine said. One 80-year-old man really impressed Christine.

“He walked with a cane, but he still wanted to help us unload,” Christine said. “He found a spot where he could lean against a wall and we’d pass boxes to him. He just wanted to say he had helped.”

After the donations were unloaded, church members took the group to a hotel where they were able to shower, change and take a short nap before visiting evacuees and helping in whatever way they could.

“We got to spend time with the FEMA evacuees in the hotel where we stayed,” Jack said. “I probably only got to talk to half a dozen, but I gave each one a hug. They would just totally embrace me, they were just so grateful. It made me feel very humble.”

In addition to visiting with evacuees, Jack took special care to deliver one set of donations personally. The donations came from a little boy in Ravenna who had donated his favorite books and toys, despite his mother’s protests, Jack said. The boy had also donated his piggy bank, with all his coins still inside.

“His mother didn’t want him to donate his favorite toys and books, but he told his mother that if they were his favorite toys and books, they could be another boy’s favorite things,” Jack said. “… I protected that boy’s toys and books through the whole process. I personally got to deliver them to two little boys and it was like Christmas for them. It could have been a million dollars, that’s how excited they were.”

The group got up the next morning, went to breakfast with the church members and began the drive home, Christine said.

“It was one of the best, nicest things I’ve ever done in my life,” Canfield said.

Contact news correspondent Jillian Kramer at [email protected].