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Katrina and the Mississippi Delta: Sharing and Caring

Delta Region — After Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury on the Gulf Coast, Mississippi Delta citizens and organizations jumped in to help the tens of thousands of coastal residents who took shelter in the Mid-South Delta Region. At ground level, small nonprofits and churches are leading coordinated efforts to provide food, clothing, jobs, short-term and long-term housing, and educational opportunities for evacuees.

East Arkansas Enterprise Corporation (EAEC) in Forrest City, Arkansas is a Community Development Corporation that provides enrichment and employment opportunities for low-income youth in its community.  This small community became home for over 2,500 hurricane evacuees. EAEC has collaborated with local churches and schools to dispatch needed household goods to evacuees.

“We have two donors who are in the process of shipping two 18-wheelers of household goods,” said EAEC Program Coordinator CasSandra Lumpkin. “Ms. Caryn Sweeney of AED contacted us and advised that each team involved in hurricane relief efforts would receive $5,000 to support their initiatives.  Based on that conversation, we are proposing to hire a part-time Coordinator for the Disaster Relief Initiative. In the meantime, we are helping 13 families who have located housing, but still need household items and furniture.”

“All of the communities in this region are pitching in to serve the immediate needs of evacuees,” said Mississippi State Senator Robert Jackson, director of Quitman County Development Organization (QCDO). QCDO has created a relief fund and plans to expand its youth program by 30-40 percent to accommodate the needs of evacuees who have recently relocated to Marks, Mississippi and the surrounding area.

Monroe, Louisiana received over 3,000 evacuees, including 2,000 who were housed in an emergency shelter in the town’s civic center. RENEWAL, a faith-based community organization in Monroe, is actively providing immediate relief for families by matching them with host families and calling on the community for food, clothes, resources, job opportunities and child care.  They are also helping register children for school in the Monroe area and providing them with school supplies.

Northeast Louisiana Delta Community Development Corporation (NELDCDC) opened up its office to become a central hub of activity to organize relief efforts for the four shelters in Tallulah, Louisiana. Evacuees are able to use the organization’s computer lab to search for family members and apply for FEMA assistance.  They are holding drives to collect  needed supplies, and they are facilitating support groups, GED classes, and financial literacy awareness. NELDCDC is also providing recreation and after-school care to evacuee children.  They have eight Americorps volunteers who help coordinate and lead this work.

Foundations and large nonprofit organizations are partnering with one another to support these relief efforts. The Academy for Educational Development (AED) established a $35,000 fund to provide support for the affected communities in Forrest City, AR; Marks, MS; Tallulah and Monroe, LA. Heifer International has committed $1 million to its small-farm and livestock-cooperative projects in the Delta and Coastal Regions. The Walton Family Foundation has donated $1 million to the Foundation for the Mid South (FMS) for immediate relief efforts in the Delta Region. FMS has also established the Hurricane Katrina Recovery and Restoration Fund. So far, the Fund has accumulated $2.4 million in donations. The Kellogg Foundation Board of Trustees also approved $12 million in new grants for Kellogg Foundation grantees who are located in the path of the devastation or who serve those who have been affected by Katrina.

Philanthropic organizations are also considering the long-term implications of Katrina and philanthropy’s role in the recovery. FMS held a convening in Memphis, TN with 90 representatives of nonprofits and funders from the region. Several principles were laid out during the meeting including using philanthropy’s influence and resources to make government both responsive and responsible. In a recent opinion published by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, FMS President George Penick stated, “National grant makers and charities must work with local nonprofit groups to use their influence to make sure that the voices of everyone are heard, that the needs of the whole community are met, and that concerns about equity and fairness are considered in every step of the rebuilding process.”

Information for this story was provided by Ida Rademacher and Elvis Fraser of AED (www.aed.org); Christopher E. Crothers of FMS (www.fndmidsouth.org); Stephanie Pierce of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (www.wkkf.org); Dianne Williams, consultant with the Mid South Delta Initiative (www.msdi.org); and CasSandra Lumpkin at EAEC (www.eaec.info).

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