My husband Ervin and I were called to go to Tangipahoa Parish, Hammond, Louisiana to be a part of the World Renew Needs Assessment Team from November 2 – 17, 2016.

The purpose of needs assessment is to find those who have continuing needs following a disaster, those who have exhausted FEMA, insurance, and community or church donations. We present the long-term term recovery group of the area with the needs assessment. With this information, they can find the people who are in dire circumstances, apply for grants, coordinate volunteers, find housing, building materials, appliances, furniture, and offer mental health counseling and legal services.

In the process of conducting the needs assessment, we speak directly with those who come to the walk-in center, and to those who answer the door of their homes as we walk the streets of the affected area. In Hammond, countless survivors were still living in mobile homes that had been under water for several days…homes now afflicted with mold, compromised floors, warped doors and walls, and loss of all skirting and insulation. People’s jobs were often swept away with the flood too. Hammond had already suffered heavy rain and subsequent flooding in March of 2016, and even more in August. Prior to 2016, heavy flooding had not been experienced since 1983.

Do you have a week to volunteer to repair homes for people in situations like Geraldo, the family of four, or Barbara?

Most survivors we talked to listed a pre-flood income of under $10,000 per year. Nearly half of the parish is comprised of mobile homes; the others are slab homes. Often three to four generations live in one mobile home. Extended families live near each other utilizing available space on one “lot”. The August flood came in quickly after 24 hours of hard rain, with the water as deep as 4’ in a home that had already been raised 5’. Residents lost all of their possessions, vehicles, and the safety and security of their homes. Many people are filled with deep despair, exhausted from filling out applications to FEMA, for loans, jobs, and insurance. Many welcomed a listening ear and a compassionate heart to share with. Many told of escaping in the dark through neck-deep water, snakes and spiders swimming alongside them.

We tried to imagine how we would feel if this happened to us. All our food, clothing, paperwork, property titles, furniture, pictures, children’s toys and family heirlooms – gone, turned to debris. We imagined our possessions being hauled away by garbage trucks. And then having to deal with a banker or insurance representative, who expect you to have proof of ownership, proof of income, and tax returns before they are able to offer assistance.

We reflected on what it would mean to have worked since March to fix up your home – exhausting all your savings to do so – and then, two weeks away from completion, all is destroyed by the August flood. Flood insurance is valid only after all work is completed, so now you have nothing. This stress would only be compounded by the struggles we all have with regular health issues, deaths in our families, and normal relationship wear and tear.

We listened to and documented stories like these for 14 days. Our hearts broke hearing each one. “Disaster” now has a face and personality.

Our team of 14 members was a very compassionate and capable group of people from Michigan, Iowa, and Alabama. We arrived as strangers and left as close friends. We covered a large area and manned a walk-in center each day. Most evenings we would fall in a heap of exhaustion trying to rest up for the next day. The rewards of lifting broken spirits and hearing testimonies of God’s faithfulness far outweigh our inconveniences. We are never the same after seeing poverty and faith so closely aligned.

Here are three survivors we met:
Geraldo* – a man of faith is a permanent resident of the Hammond area. His greatest loss was the death of his son in Costa Rica on the day of the August flood. He shed many tears while telling us his story. He lives very meagerly by himself. He stripped the bottom 3 feet off his walls to remove moldy areas; his house settled out of place as the waters moved and twisted it. He has no appliances, little furniture, and received only $1300 in assistance for repairs. This looks like utter despair to us, yet after prayer and sharing his story he said, “I feel so much better now!”

There is another story of a family with four children, three of whom are seriously handicapped. A brother of the homeowner, who is afflicted with schizophrenia, also lives with them. Three of these residents need help just to move around. Their home was flooded out with 4’ water. They moved to a FEMA trailer which must be returned in 18 months. The husband works to support all of them, and the wife is a constant caretaker with endless laundry, cooking, and cleaning up after everyone. They have no means of help in sight. We were thankful that the Lord brought them to our walk-in center so they could get connected with assistance.

Barbara* has cancer. Her home was vandalized while she was in the hospital for treatment. The materials laying ready for her reconstruction were stolen. Her children had purchased these materials for her with their limited resources. She also suffers from arthritis, lung disease, and is in need of knee surgery. Her story is full of hopelessness, yet she is convinced God has a plan for her life and she trusts in Him.

Do you have a week to volunteer to repair homes for people in situations like Geraldo, the family of four, or Barbara?

If so, visit to find an opportunity. You will never regret taking advantage of helping someone! We are not guaranteed our health to “go out later in life” to do this, so consider if God is calling you to go now!

As always, continue to pray for those affected by a disaster, and for World Renew Disaster Response Services as they seek to meet the needs of those affected by flooding and other disasters.

*Names changed to protect privacy.