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City a place of hope for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina

A terrible thing happened a few weeks ago. Katrina robbed people of their homes, possessions, the people and pets they loved.

Families were separated. Some escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs. Their lives will never be the same.

But kindness and compassion go a long way in making a tragic situation a bearable one.

Greenville has opened its heart to the hundreds of evacuees who have come through and to the city. Some have been here for only a few hours or days; some will be staying with us for months, while others plan to settle down here to make it their new hometown.

I think many of us were able to put ourselves in their shoes. How would we feel if it happened to us?

So, we've given. We've taken food, clothing and supplies to the distribution center; we've prepared meals for evacuees, done their laundry, welcomed them into our classrooms, invited them to our football games and concerts, done our best to make them feel at home.

The wonderful staff of DHR have worked pretty much night and day trying to coordinate efforts for what has been a tremendous undertaking.

After all, we are a small town - the best small town in America, of course - but nonetheless, a small one with limited resources.

Still, it's amazing what one little town can do when it comes together.

On Saturday, one new evacuee in town was surprised at her motel room with a birthday cake and clothing gift certificates from Joyce Till and a fellow DHR-Red Cross volunteer.

"When I found out her birthday was coming up, I wanted to do something special. These folks came away with virtually nothing. The stories break your heart," Till told me.

Everywhere there are people willing to give what they can.

A number of area churches are now on a rotation schedule, preparing meals for the evacuees. Volunteers like Karen Jones and Nancy Idland are manning the King's building distribution center throughout the week, offering all sorts of items needed by evacuees.

Other local volunteers are loading boxes of supplies on trucks for missions of mercy to hard-hit areas in Mississippi.

A Greenville business owner, Bob Glasscock of Butler Services, is offering free faxes for health or welfare and free email or Internet search.

Bob also told me the Greenville Lions Club will sponsor those evacuees in need of eye exams and eyeglasses. A couple of referrals have already been received from DHR and fitted with glasses.

Once Bernard Lewis heard about the need for non-perishable food bags, he made some calls and his local coffee club soon contributed to the cause.

"The people of Greenville are more than wonderful," he told me.

It's true.

Now help is needed to provide housing for the evacuees. People are generously offering trailers, campers, rental houses, spare rooms in their own homes.

Sara Jean Atkins is working with DHR as housing coordinator. In addition to a place for evacuees to live beyond a motel room, furnishings are needed, Atkins says.

"We need furniture, appliances in good working order - basically, anything that you can donate that can furnish a dwelling," she says.

To help, contact Sara Jean at 382-5192 at home or at DHR at 382-4400.

Somehow, I know the people of Greenville and Butler County will come though once again.

After all, we are a place that offers hope.

Angie Long is Lifestyles reporter for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 132 or via email at angie.long@greenvilleadvocate.com.