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Charity helps evacuees find a place to call home

Some Hurricane Katrina evacuees staying in the Brookhaven areaare taking advantage of temporary housing on Highway 84 West.

Iowa businessman Merrill Oster, who has family ties toBrookhaven, came up with the concept and worked with a Christiancharitable foundation to see it through, said Steven White,minister of music at Easthaven Baptist Church and a local organizerof the program and the church’s shelter activities.

“He was looking for something to do,” White said. “He had seenthe trailer courts the government set up in Florida and he askedwhy the church couldn’t do that here. We could.”

The foundation funded 14 camper trailers and shipped them toBrookhaven. All of the trailers have queen-size beds, stoves,refrigerators and showers. Some have additional bunk beds. Churchesin Cedar Falls, Iowa, furnished the trailers with dishes and othernecessary items to make them livable.

The plan, White said, is to provide them to evacuees who will bestaying in Brookhaven on a semi-permanent basis for quite sometime. The opportunity was not limited to evacuees at the Easthavenshelter.

“We made it available to everyone at once, and then we have aselection committee to make the assignments,” White said.

Assignments have since been made, but only one family has beennotified because occupancy has been delayed awaiting permits andutility hookups.

“We thought it best to wait to tell them until they could moveto avoid any more anxiety,” White said.

Freddy Benit of Meraux, La., his wife, Therese, and twochildren, Simeon and Melanie, said the trailer was a blessing.

“We lost everything,” Freddy Benit said. “We saved one of twovehicles and a few suitcases of clothing. Our faith and trust inHim is bringing us through every day.”

Benit said he has a good job in New Orleans, but the businesswas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the company is in theprocess of rebuilding its facility. He said the children areenrolled at Brookhaven Academy so the family will likely stay forat least a year even if his employer calls back the employees.

“I’ll probably commute during that time. That way we can keepthe family in a stable environment,” he said.

Benit praised the entire Brookhaven community for its assistanceefforts.

“The reception here has been wonderful, tremendous,heart-warming – I just don’t have all the words,” he said. “Thepeople of the town have even been helping to provide items beyondwhat the shelter can provide.”

Those items include clothing and school supplies to help hischildren make a successful transition, Benit said.

White said the camper trailers have been set up on a closedtrailer court on Highway 84 about four miles west of Brookhaven.The court had recently been purchased for private development, andthe new owner has delayed his plans for up to six months to allowthe church to use it, White said. The owner did not want to beidentified.

“In six months, we hope they can find housing and jobs andbecome a part of our permanent community,” White said. “We reallywant people who are planning on staying here in Lincoln County, butthat is not a requirement to get into a trailer.”

The trailers will be reissued as those in them find permanenthomes and jobs, he said.

“This is God giving us an opportunity here that is reallyunprecedented,” White said. “We’re just trying to use all theresources of our church to assimilate these people into our county.Our church family has embraced the people here.”

After six months, however, residents can buy the trailers orthey will be returned to the foundation for resale, he said.

In the meantime, the trailer court has been christened JabezPark. The name refers to the prayer of Jabez “who essentially askedGod to increase his territory. The Lord has certainly increased ourterritory by allowing us to reach out to people we never could havebefore, so it seemed a natural name for it,” White said.