On a Saturday morning in late July, Ricky “Beaudreaux” Mosley of Savannah moved through the breakfast line at God’s Katrina Kitchen, a Hurricane Katrina relief mission in Pass Christian, Mississippi.
After high school volunteers from a Nashville church loaded his plate with scrambled eggs, sausage and Cajun potatoes, he settled at a table at the far end of the 50’x100’ tent for a leisurely breakfast.
Mosley has lived in a tent of his own in the volunteer village of God’s Katrina Kitchen since his arrival in Mississippi in early June.
“I was the second tent back there to have air conditioning,” says the 39-year-old carpenter.
Mosley is a native of Louisiana who’s lived in Savannah for 14 years. Even before Hurricane Katrina, he and his wife Susan Hudspeth Mosley were already considering moving their family to the gulf coast. Ricky grew up in Louisiana and after so many years in Savannah was missing his home. He wanted his family to experience the gulf/bayou culture.
“He’s from there,” says Susan. “After Hurricane Katrina he felt a real strong urge to go there and to help, to do what he can do. He wants to be back home.”
While Ricky has been living and working in Pass Christian, Susan and their three children remain in Savannah. Pass Christian is one of eleven cities and towns in the three county gulf coast region of Mississippi severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. The hurricane’s winds and the thirty foot storm surge destroyed tens of thousands of buildings in the three county area and took 175 lives in six counties of coastal Mississippi.
In June, the Mosleys and their three children traveled to the coast in hopes of finding Ricky employment doing carpentry work, and a rental house for the family. They planned to leave Ricky in Mississippi while Susan and the children returned to Savannah to pack up and move.
Although work has been plentiful, “I expected it would be easier to find a place to live,” says Ricky. “Housing is in shortage. There’s slim to none.”
During the family’s five night stay in June, they rented a $125-per-night hotel room “with no hot water, no cable, no phone, and no clean towels,” says Susan.
“We probably didn’t see five houses from Biloxi to Pass Christian for rent,” she says.
Chasing down rentals published in the weekly advertising circular, wheny they contacted the owners they found that most places were already taken. The few available rentals were priced at $1600 per month or higher, “for regular normal little houses, like what you see all over east Savannah,” says Susan.
Ricky was a child living in Louisiana when Hurricane Camille hit the gulf area in 1969. “This right here is a whole lot worse than Camille ever thought about being,” he says.
Says Susan, “It’s been a year and people in Savannah think it’s all back to normal. They are saying, ‘Oh, they’ve all got FEMA trailers and it’s fine.’ This notion that there are cities of FEMA trailers down there is just not true.”
“The main thing that hit me was how there’s nothing there,” she adds. “No animals even—no squirrels, dogs, cats. Nothing as far as the eye can see. From about 20 miles on the other side of New Orleans to where Ricky is, it’s just desolation.”
The Mosley’s assessment of the housing supply along the coast is confirmed in a July 2006 report by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, and in an affordable housing study by RAND. Of 152,386 housing units in the three county area, 81,491 (53 percent) were damaged or destroyed in the storm.
As of August 21, 36,000 FEMA trailers were housing Mississippi residents across the state, not nearly enough to replace the homes lost in the storm. “Lack of skilled labor and an adequate number of dwellings to house them are two of the greatest challenges facing the construction industry,” notes the governor’s report.
Some of Ricky’s friends in Savannah’s construction community traveled to Mississippi seeking employment in the months following the hurricane. Unable to find housing, they all have returned to Savannah after only a few weeks of work, he says.
While the Mosleys were house hunting, they stumbled upon God’s Katrina Kitchen, a non-denominational Christian mission providing hurricane relief. The mission is located in Pass Christian on U.S. 90, a once busy four lane highway which runs parallel to the beach along the Gulf of Mexico. “I was driving down the road and saw it. Something told me to turn around and come back,” says Ricky. “I needed to be somewhere where there is a purpose.”
Ricky lives in his tent on the premises of God’s Katrina Kitchen, working as a carpenter in Pass Christian forty hours a week, and donating labor to the mission an additional forty hours. He’s one of about fifteen long term volunteers living on the site.
“He definitely has been a great asset to us. He does different construction projects as well as helping out in the kitchen,” says Vicki Weesner, a volunteer from Colorado who staffs the office of the mission.
God’s Katrina Kitchen serves three free meals daily to hurricane victims, relief volunteers, and anyone else who turns up at the 50’x 100’ red and white tent across the road from the beach. Many of the regulars are locals who live nearby in FEMA trailers or in their houses and come for the sense of community as well as the food.
Dave Van Abel is the Kitchen’s volunteer chef, who quit his job with Aramark in Milwaukee, Wisc., after a week-long mission trip to the gulf in May. Since arriving in June he works from 5 am until 7 pm every day, and intends to stay at least three months, “until God tells me to go home” he says, planning menus, cooking, and supervising volunteers who help with meal prep, serving and clean up.
God’s Katrina Kitchen also coordinates home reconstruction using donated materials and volunteer labor. The mission supplies temporary housing in air conditioned metal bunkhouses for individual or group volunteers, many of whom are affiliated with church groups from around the country.
Since setting up shop in the weeks after the storm, the mission has served as many as 3600 meals per day and has constructed seven homes “from the ground up” says Weeser. An additional twenty homes are in progress, but a recent drop off in volunteers has slowed the pace of rebuilding. In August 2006, God’s Katrina Kitchen was serving fewer than 1000 meals a day for the first time since February.
When he’s not working or volunteering, Ricky passes his time with Barbara and Larry Brannon, a retired couple from Moulton, Alabama. The Brannons and the Mosley family met on the first day the Mosleys visited the mission. The Brannons are long term Kitchen volunteers living in their travel trailer next to Ricky’s tent.
“He’s in our front yard,” says Barbara. “They’re in my backyard,” says Ricky.
Knowing that Ricky is at Katrina’s Kitchen with the Brannon’s “made me feel somewhat better about leaving him down there,” says Susan, who is back in Savannah with the kids, working as she has for the past eighteen months as the gardening coordinator for Union Mission, Inc.
With children in elementary, middle and high school, Susan has concerns about the effects that living in a storm ravaged area could have on them.
“I don’t want three children living in…nowhere. And what’s the deal with the schools? It’s a lot to consider.”
Their oldest daughter Donna is in the International Baccalaureate program at Johnson High School and is active in ROTC.
“She’s an ‘all A’ student,” says her mom. “She’s afraid she’ll get there and there’s going to be nothing. It might be up to her to start an ROTC troop down there.”
Susan hopes that by the New Year, the family will be reunited—at the gulf. Recently she submitted an employment application at the Home Depot Garden Center in Gulfport.
“Ricky is staying. He’s had his moments when he felt like giving up, but he’s staying.”
What if they don’t find housing by then?
“We will,” says Susan. I have to have faith. I told Ricky, ‘It just hasn’t been right. When it’s right, we’ll find a place.’ ”
To volunteer at God’s Katrina Kitchen or for more information go to www.godskatrinakitchen.org
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