BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "This is about helping those people who can't help themselves," said Andy Collette as he dropped a bottle of water into a plastic bag.
Collette is the new Chief Executive Officer of the United Methodist Seashore Mission in Biloxi. He left the Salvation Army to assume the position earlier this summer. He and several volunteers have formed a sort of assembly line inside a small kitchen.
The quarters are small, but their hearts are big. They're packing plastic bags with snack food to give to South Mississippians in need. They're called Mana Bags, and each one holds the same thing: a bottle of water, a sports drink, a vitamin packet, protein water, a can of Vienna sausage, a fruit cup, beef jerky, peanut and cheese crackers and a granola bar. The total cost of each bag is $2.50.
"We're not giving them bunches and bunches of money," Collette said. "What we're doing is giving them hope in the form of a bag of food. And we're hoping that that hope will carry on beyond that meal. That it will make them ask the question, 'What can I do to better myself?' And that's the real goal here."
Mana Bags are only a building block of what should be a much larger project for the Seashore Mission. Mobile Mana is the mission's first big step back into service since Hurricane Katrina.
"Mobile Mana is a mobile delivery system to bring food and all the resources that we can bring to people who are marginalized," Collette said. "As we find them, we're going to bring to them food. We're going to bring to them the word of God. We're going to bring to them showers and laundry, a hot meal as soon as we have that capability. And we're going to preach and have a great time being with them and bringing to them the things that they need to sustain their lives."
Terry O'Dell regularly volunteers with the mission. He first became involved through his church in 2000. He said after Katrina washed away the mission's facility, they became disorganized. Now, he serves on the board, and he's thrilled to see the Seashore Mission re-energizing.
"This is the most active that we've been able to be these last four years," O'Dell said. "I can see over the last few months that there is a great effort to get our mission accomplished throughout the lower six counties."
The Seashore Mission will soon have a large van to help bring its services to those who need them most.
"Christ asked us to help our neighbor, and our neighbor is, quite literally, everywhere," O'Dell said. "So we can actually not ask our neighbor to come to our facility, but we can go to them."
Collette said he hopes by bringing services to those who need them most, the mission will bring a bigger message, as well.
"What if our services come where they are and we say to them, 'We love you, in the name of Jesus.' And we offer them a bag of food, or we offer them a hot meal, just make them a little bit better today," Collette said. "If in that moment, we can connect with them, and they see some hope and see that they can be better, then maybe we can help them in the long-term. Maybe we can bring them to more self-sufficiency."
The Seashore Mission welcomes volunteers. Anyone interested can call (288) 219-0100.