San Antonio responds

Volunteers help at shelters, diocese offers interim-housing training
November 1, 2005

“It is the impact of the hands-on work, of being Christ to one another that puts that indelible mark on a person.”

That’s how Gary Lillibridge, coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of West Texas, described the reaction of his teen-age daughters as they spent long hours at the intake desk interviewing evacuees arriving at the huge KellyUSA shelter in San Antonio after Katrina struck. “They won’t forget that. They were just stunned.”

Families arriving from New Orleans, and later from eastern Texas when Rita hit, brought to life the TV news reports Lillibridge and his family had been hearing. “When they got off those buses from the airport, they hadn’t showered in four days. They hadn’t eaten. The diabetics hadn’t had insulin … these people were just desperate,” he said. “There were thousands.

They just kept coming, in waves, an amazing number of little children.” The immediate reaction in San Antonio was generosity. Hundreds of volunteers showed up at shelters. Others emptied their linen closets, their wardrobes, their piggy banks.

With its offices in San Antonio, the Diocese of West Texas quickly realized it would need to respond and so began organizing a Disaster Response Task Force. Meanwhile, many, like Lillibridge and his family, went immediately to where they thought they could help.

“It was sort of a you-ring-the-bell-and-people-come response,” said Lillibridge. “The Red Cross, FEMA, the churches, the business community, the medical community … In that shelter we saw humanity at some of its best … It was a place of sanctuary.”

New training role

Weeks after the disaster, with the shelters somewhat depleted but the city still full of evacuees, the diocese had taken on the role of training those who would provide interim housing for the thousands remaining. Using resources, expertise and materials provided by Episcopal Migration Ministries and its director, Richard Parkins, the diocese began offering training for volunteers from two to three dozen churches, synagogues and mosques.

Demi Prentiss, ministry development director at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, took on the leadership of that effort. The diocese is offering the training through an interfaith organization formed after 9/11 --Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disaster. Prentiss taught the first of many sessions, with more than two dozen volunteers present, on Sept. 29. She was surprised and encouraged by the turnout on such short notice.

“We have to do this right,” she said. “We cannot afford to make promises to a family and then let them down.” Training sessions were scheduled to continue through October.

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