Lagniappe Presbyterian Church Provides Storm Shelter

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Some three dozen Hurricane Gustav evacuees are tracking Hurricane Ike from a shelter in Bay St. Louis.

Lagniappe Presbyterian Church is the only remaining Red Cross shelter still open in Hancock County.

The mission-minded church was launched in the wake of Hurricane Katrina three years ago. Since then it has hosted thousands of volunteers and built or repaired numerous homes. This latest effort is also storm-related: sheltering victims of Gustav.

"The storm caught us before we could get anywhere," said 52-year-old Charlie Smith, as he clutched one of his young children.

Smith and family were loaded in his truck, towing an RV to his brother's home in Florida.

"I just want to get my family to safety," he explained.

An unexpected breakdown at the worst time possible forced the Smith family to abandon both truck and trailer, just as Gustav hit.

"Coming back from Texas to go to Florida, and like I said, our trailer and everything it broke down on me, locked up on me," says Smith.

The Smiths, along with dozens of other evacuees, found safe shelter in a Bay St. Louis Church with an unusual name.

"This is a timeline of Lagniappe," said Lynn Sabin, pointing to a snapshot history on the bulletin board which shares the story of Lagniappe Presbyterian Church.

Its small congregation has made a positive difference in hundreds of lives.

"All the people here know we're here because we have gone and helped so many people. Just with individual things in their home. It might be just a roof, might be sheet rock, might be just clearing their property after the storm," says Sabin.

"They want to know, did he live at one place or the other?" said Red Cross volunteer Bill Conley, as he helped see to the needs of families stunned by this latest storm.

"Many of these people that are here, unfortunately, have also experienced Katrina just over three years ago. So, this is the second major blow that they've had, not ever having gotten over Katrina yet," says Conley, from Cleveland, Ohio.

As if these Gustav evacuees don't have enough to worry about, there's that other guy.

"But Hurricane Ike is still churning," said the newscaster, as Gustav evacuees watched TV coverage of the latest threat.

They keep a wary, weary eye on Ike. This is a season, it seems, of hurricane fatigue.

Miriam Loew says her stress level is dropping.

"It's gone down now, since they're saying it looks like Texas," she said, while watching the projected path of Ike.

Along with serving as a Red Cross shelter for Gustav evacuees, plus building homes and hosting thousands of volunteers since Katrina, Lagniappe Presbyterian also finds time for church. The building that serves as the main gathering space for storm evacuees becomes the sanctuary for worship service each Sunday.