Salem couple discuss post-Katrina help

They spent weeks in Mississippi with a faith-based group

January 25, 2006

Ben and Ina Sims have taken extensive trips in their motor home before, but none impacted them quite like their last.

The Salem couple ventured to Mississippi for 6 1/2 weeks and volunteered for a faith-based relief agency that continues to provide aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"We could have put X number of dollars in, but who would we have given it to?" Ben Sims said. "We thought the best thing we could do was to go ourselves, then we'd know exactly where our funds were spent."

Ben managed a supply warehouse for the United Methodist Committee on Relief in the community of Wiggins.

Ina sorted new and used clothing that came into the warehouse, which also distributed bottled water, food and cleaning supplies.

"Anybody who needed them, we got them to them as fast as we could," Ben said.

The Sims, who are both in their 70s, also volunteered in the town of Lakeshore, which is about a mile from the gulf. They parked their motor home on the property where a Baptist church once stood before the hurricane struck.

"It was heartwrenching," Ben said. "There was much more devastation than we had imagined."

"You'd feel helpless," Ina said, "because there was so much to do."

Their church back home, First United Methodist in downtown Salem, collected $774 one Sunday for them to buy blankets for victims. An Iowa man they met in Mississippi chipped in $500 when he heard what the Sims were doing.

They were able to buy 183 blankets, which they handed out to residents of DeLisle.

Ben Sims spent time in Mississippi in the early 1970s, while in the Air Force and stationed at Biloxi. It was shocking for him to see once familiar neighborhoods demolished.

"It was difficult trying to remember what was in a location," he said, "because there was nothing there."

During their stay -- from Oct. 20 to Dec. 7 -- they did witness signs of hope in the rebuilding process.

"Things came back some while we were there," Ina said. "Wal-Mart was built up again, and they did open one mall.

"But there's still a lot that needs to be done."

clynn@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6710


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