Thursday, December 22, 2005

• Hurricane Katrina evacuees
Spending Christmas away from home

By Cynthia Bullion
Contributing Writer

Juanita Alonzo is excited she will be going home for the holidays. However, many of her friends will not be so fortunate and spend the holidays not only away from their hometowns, but the facility they have called home for years.

Alonzo and nearly 80 other elderly residents of Covenant Health and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home in Picayune, were forced to evacuate their “homes” when Hurricane Katrina moved inland in August, causing a portion of the facility’s roof to collapse.

Some of the residents were given shelter in Marshall County at the Trinity Mission Health and Rehabilitation Centers in Holly Springs and Byhalia and are not expected to return to South Mississippi until March. Twenty of the evacuated residents are currently at the Byhalia facility, while 14 are at the Holly Springs facility. Other Covenant residents were evacuated to Clinton and Vicksburg.

“They came in on a Greyhound bus on Sept. 1 at 4 in the morning,” Angela Warren, a Trinity Mission social worker in Byhalia, said. “They were so tired.”

Alonzo, who is receiving care at the Byhalia facility, said Katrina’s attack on her “home” and the following trip from Picayune were stressful.

“We were all afraid,” Alonzo said. “We saw it on the television and the staff said it was coming, but we didn’t know what would happen.”

Ophelia Poindexter, who was also evacuated to Trinity Mission’s Byhalia facility, said nursing home staff moved all the residents to one part of the building and waited for what was to come. When Hurricane Katrina hit, it left the residents with no electricity or air conditioning.

“It was 110 degrees and we had to fan ourselves with pieces of pasteboard,” Poindexter wrote in a journal that she hopes to develop into a book about her experience. “I didn’t have anything but the clothes on my back.”

Since arriving at Trinity Mission, Poindexter and other Katrina evacuees from the Picayune nursing home have received assistance to help them get the things they need. Community donations and $100 gift cards from the Mississippi Health Care Foundation have been used to purchase needed items, including eyeglasses, clothing and dentures, not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance, Warren said.

In addition, some of the remaining donated money will be used to spread the holiday spirit at Trinity Mission. Each of the evacuated residents will receive stockings full of goodies.

“They will have a Christmas,” Warren said. “Some of their families will not be able to come visit for Christmas since a lot of them have lost homes and jobs themselves. So, we are making sure they get gifts.”

Warren said community support has made Trinity Mission’s job of providing for their guests much easier than expected.

“People really stepped up by donating clothes and other things,” she said. “Catholic Charities has adopted all the (evacuated residents), and the Head Start came caroling. It has made them feel welcome.”

Continued monetary donations will aid in the extended care of the evacuated residents until repairs of Covenant Health and Rehabilitation Center are complete and should be sent to the Mississippi Health Care Foundation at 114 Marketridge Drive, Ridgeland, MS 39157, Warren said. Additional information about the Foundation may be found at http://www.mshca.com.

In addition, donations of time and compassion are also encouraged.

“A lot of the (evacuated residents) would love to have someone visit them and talk to them,” Warren said.

Trinity Mission’s Byhalia facility is located at 111 Chase Street, while its Holly Springs facility is located at 1315 Hwy 4 East. For more information, call 252-1141 or 838-3670.


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