Disaster Volunteers Spend The Holiday Working

Volunteers from all over the nation who have put their own lives on hold to help South Mississippians rebuild their lives are truly dedicated to the cause. Many of the volunteers worked on Christmas Day and plan to work through the holiday season, putting South Mississippi's needs before their own.

The men and women hard at work gutting a Bay St. Louis home are all volunteers with the Disaster Corps organization. The group has been working on the Main Street home for the past few days.

Seth Tocker, 23, and his girlfriend Becky Westbrook, say there's no better way to spend the Christmas holidays.

"This is our Christmas present. This is what is making us feel good this Christmas. It's not getting the computer, it's not getting a new bike, it's not getting whatever. It's seeing someone else's smile that is our gift. That is what we're receiving," Disaster Corps Team Leader Seth Tocker said.

Westbrook echoed his words.

"A season like this can mean a lot to a lot of people, especially somebody who has missed everything, who no longer has a house, who's not with his or her family. I would rather be down here trying to fill a gap with those people to give them something they need. They had a greater need than I did."

As a Christmas gift, their parents gave them the money to make the trip from Oklahoma to the Coast to volunteer.

"Our families are real proud that we're down here," Tocker said.

Being away from their families and normal holiday traditions doesn't seem to bother any of the volunteers.

"At the end of this, I go home to a house and a job and a life. And for many down here, that's not happening," Disaster Corps volunteer Adam Reisman said.

The Bay St. Louis residents receiving help from the group say they are amazed.

"It's hard to believe they still have people like that in this world," George and Rayceille McCullum said.

A Disaster Corps team spent a whole week gutting the McCullum's storm damaged home.

"I just can't say enough about them. I was surprised on Christmas Eve. I said, 'Baby, look. They're coming on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas Day.' That really did it. Their comment was, 'We're just glad we could do something to help somebody.'"

"Some holiday seasons you can remember, others you don't. I know I'm going to remember this one for the rest of my life," Reisman said.

Most Disaster Corps volunteers give at least a week of their time to the organization. Others give more. Seth Tocker and Becky Westbrook will head home this week, but have plans to return during their spring and summer breaks from college.

by Al Showers