Another volunteer group leaves Hancock Co.

By Al Showers - bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - CityTeam Ministries closed its hurricane relief operation in Bay St.Louis Wednesday, after three and a half years of service to the storm battered area.

The volunteer organization arrived on the Coast two weeks after Katrina struck and has bought thousands of volunteers to town to help build homes.

Nola Kingston is one of more than 250 people who received help from CityTeam volunteers in getting back into a home. In Kingston's case, they restored a house she had lived in for 60 years.

"I have a special, special place in my heart for CityTeam," the Bay St. Louis resident said. "People that came to help me, and God knows it was a lot of them."

CityTeam's volunteer camp is being forced to close due, in part, to the poor economy.

Curt Merriam with CityTeam Ministries said, "They're attempting to go over to Galveston, not on the scale that they've done it here, but it's just kind of hard to be in two places at once. And those are the new places that get the attention, so there's more funding, which enables them to do more work. Not that they don't want to be here, but it's harder to find funding to continue."

CityTeam has played a major role in the recovery of Hancock County. In the days following the storm, its distribution center fed, clothed and provided supplies for 1,500 families a week. They brought in more than 2,000 volunteers to help gut and rebuild houses. The organization also started social programs and events to get families out of their FEMA trailers.

"We really wanted to be able to provide a gathering place and a therapeutic element that would help children by doing arts and crafts and things like that," Crystal Merriam said.

Crystal and Curtis Merriam have spent the past 16 months running the volunteer camp.

"There are so many people who have blessed us and really welcomed us into their homes and their lives, so it's really hard to leave them, but Wyoming is home. It's been a wonderful experience Southern Hospitality has definitely taught us a lot," Curtis Merriam said.

"It's really bittersweet because so many people really took us in and now you're making me cry, and you're not even Oprah," Crystal said with a tears in her eyes. "Home is where your heart is and we're going to leave a part of our hearts in Mississippi."

At least one of the programs started by CityTeam will live on even after the relief site is closed. The Creative Kids arts program will continue to be held every second Saturday from 1pm to 3pm at the Hancock County Library's Annex building.