In March, five members of the Hayden Congregational Church will head to New Orleans to assist in Hurricane Katrina disaster recovery efforts.
"As soon as it happened, that was my first thought: 'I want to go down and do what I can to help,'" said Betty Barnes, who is volunteering with her husband, Bobby "B.J." Barnes.
Helping was not that simple, however. Soon after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, several church members signed a covenant promising to do what they could to help. But relief organizations weren't prepared to handle an influx of good Samaritans.
"They said, 'We will let you know when we are prepared,'" said Pastor Janet Babish, who has been coordinating the volunteer effort with the United Church of Christ. "They weren't set up for people to come."
It was not until a couple months ago that Babish received an e-mail telling her they were ready for volunteers. She and her husband, Ralph, learned only a couple of weeks ago that they would be leaving March 17. Connie Todd also is going on the trip.
"A lot of it is for our own growth and to overcome some of preconceptions," Babish said.
"I'm looking for it to change our lives as much as it changes theirs."
Some of the basic supplies they will take include respirators, paper suits, goggles and boots. They also have a list of tools that are needed and are accepting donations from anyone who wants to contribute.
Many of the homes damaged by Katrina are untouched, and workers are stripping the houses down to their studs to remove the mold caused by floodwaters. The Hayden contingent doesn't know exactly what they will do during their nine-day mission trip. Most likely, some of the work will involve cleaning and ripping out damaged drywall and insulation.
"There are thousands of thousands of houses that are still untouched," said Alan Coe, minister for disaster recovery in the New Orleans area. "There is a lot of that, and a lot of the city is still without electricity." Coe said his organization has three churches to house volunteers arriving from across the United States and a growing inventory of tools.
"When I was given this job, we had nothing set up," he said. "Everything is continually being set up and improved as different groups come down."
They now have 70 projects on their list, and fresh volunteers are always arriving, Coe said.
"You take one step at a time, and you make progress," he said. "It is frustrating, but you don't dwell on that, because you make progress each day."
The volunteers express a lot of different emotions, Coe said, including anger, sadness and frustration.
"A group was out yesterday for the first time working in a house that was untouched since the hurricane," Coe said. "They were telling me this morning that they had a hard time just walking into the house."
B.J. Barnes will be happy if he can just help four or five families.
"Hopefully, it will make a difference for them, and if it makes a difference for them, it will make a difference for me," he said.
"I think it's my calling to see what I can do and to see for myself what it is really like," Todd said.