Biloxi family can stay in home thanks to church volunteers

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It's been almost six years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. While the plight of South Mississippians hardly ever appears in national headlines anymore, an Illinois church group found out the suffering is far from over.

Melissa Wallis said after years of legal battles with her insurance company, she still hasn't received the money she needs to fix what Katrina did to her Biloxi house. Just when Wallis thought she'd have to leave her home, a group of kindhearted strangers came to her rescue.

Wallis said the rotted wood volunteers pulled from her roof is molded and the source of her family's constant visits to the doctor.

"It's just been making us sick," said Wallis. "Upper respiratory infections, Bronchitis, Sinusitis, and different things. Unfortunately, I didn't have money to do it myself."

Plainfield United Methodist Church members traveled from their town outside Chicago to South Mississippi. Volunteers are replacing the Wallis' roof and picking up the tab for the supplies. Church members said they are also replacing drywall at two other homes that were damaged in Katrina's floodwaters.

Jon Wilterdink is an associate pastor.

"I think there's a perception that things have calmed down," Wilterdink said. "It's something that we really lifted up to our congregation about there's still work to be done and there's still recovery. The greatest thing is that there are people down here who want to build back up."

While the work is difficult, volunteers said the smiles of happy homeowners make it all worthwhile.

"We're supposed to be helping them and they're helping us help them," said volunteer Kylie Burkett. "So I can tell they're really grateful. It's just a good feeling to know everyone is grateful for what you're doing. "

"When you come here, you can actually try to fix the problem for them," Sara Bettenhausen said. "You get to see the faces and how they react and how happy they are once you finish your job."

Wallis said she and her family can't thank the volunteers enough for allowing them to continue to live in their own home.

"We would have to go to a MEMA cottage or find elsewhere to stay because we've been so sick," said Wallis. "We are very grateful and thankful and this just goes to show keep praying and He'll answer it. "

Along with Katrina repairs, church volunteers are also building a wheelchair ramp for a woman who is disabled.

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