After nine hours of driving last Saturday, Mike Love and other McDuffie County Schools officials were glad they made the trip to Bay St. Louis, Miss. The group drove two 26-foot U-Haul trucks full of supplies donated by the students of McDuffie County to the Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District.
The group from McDuffie County poses with the school district sign in Mississippi.
Special to The Mirror
"It was worth it, everybody should go," Mr. Love said. "It was amazing how good their spirits are, also."
Of the five school buildings in the system, only one and one-half are useable after the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed through their area. Before Mr. Love could bring the donations from McDuffie County, he had to rent the school district a storage facility so they could keep the supplies.
Mr. Love said the faculty and staff of McDuffie County Schools rented an 8'x8'x16' pod, and someone loaned a trailer. The Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District's central office is in a quanson hut, and some classes also will be held in the tent-like structures.
"They took us inside and showed us everybody's desk, and I don't know if a good wind comes along that all will blow away, too," said Lois Porter, THS teacher who also went on the trip. "The people had the most positive attitude, though. They are going to rebuild, and they are looking forward to starting back to school."
The goal is for the Mississippi district to resume classes on Nov.1.
"When we pulled up with two U-Haul trailers, they were amazed," Mr. Love said. "They were very appreciative. Miss Candy (Disaster Relief Coordinator) said é─˛We have people call and tell us they've got a bunch of stuff to give us, but when they get here, they only have three or four boxes in the back of a car or truck. But when you said you had a bunch of stuff, you really meant a bunch of stuff!'"
Even though twelve people from McDuffie County went with Mr. Love, he said Bay St. Louis had people waiting there to help them unload the trucks. The items donated included 23 computers from McDuffie Schools, school supplies, personal hygiene items, clothes, and a check for $1,500.
"When we opened the back of the truck, and the kids saw the school books, they hollered é─˛Books!'" Mr. Love said. "And the check brought a lot of emotion out of Donna Torres (Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District official). I don't know how they are going to rebuild their schools with their whole tax basis gone. I guess the answer is by the grace of God and the federal government."
A thank you letter to Mr. Love from Ms. Torres said, "Words can not express the gratitude I feel for your school district's outpouring of support to ours during this difficult time. Thank you for the hours spent organizing and traveling to help meet our many needs. I thank you for the open heart and hand you and your district have offered. With help and support like yours, we will rebuild and once again become a community that thrives."
The devastation impressed the group that went, especially Mrs. Porter, who lived and taught school in New Orleans from 1991-1996.
"I was just amazed at the power of that storm. When we turned off I-10 and headed toward the gulf, the closer we got, the more my heart started beating. I thought it can't get any worse, and then you turn a corner, and guess what, it was worse," Mrs. Porter said. "The pictures can't pick up the smell. It's not a nice smell. Everything is dusty and moldy and nasty. Yet they just smile, and hug you and thank you. You've just got to admire people like that. These are people that have lost everything. It was Saturday and they were working on their school system. That's amazing, they can't go home and prop up their feet and watch TV. We don't think about our TV being washed out in the gulf, or not having electricity even if we had one. Everything we take for granted, they've lost."
Mr. Love would like to return to Bay St. Louis to help with recovery, but no definite plans have been made.
"I told them if they need anything at all, to let me know. We will definitely stay in touch. They've got a long way to go," he said.