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Students aid Katrina survivors

Jackie Farber, left, a Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow, and Jes Koss, a junior from White Plains, look at snapshots.
As their airplane fl ew over Gulfport, Miss., students on their way to aid in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts were struck by the blue tarps covering so many houses. A week later, those tarps held a different signifi cance for the 10 volunteers from Hillel at Binghamton.

“OK, there are still a lot of tarps there, but in a week we took down 10 of them,” junior Jes Koss remembers thinking as the group flew home.

Nine students, accompanied by Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow Jackie Farber, stayed at a church in Gulfport and helped rebuild roofs at 10 houses in nearby Biloxi. They were stunned by the devastation they saw, but also by the Southern hospitality they experienced and by the hurricane survivors’ upbeat attitudes.

“Everyone there was so nice, so happy we were there,” said Koss, 20, of White Plains. “It solidifi ed the idea that – whatever your faith is – when disaster strikes, you help.” Koss had volunteered with Habitat for Humanity before, but most of the volunteers didn’t have any construction experience.

“People from the church taught us what to do,” Farber said. “Then we climbed up on the roof and we did it. It’s amazing to see what you can accomplish when you have to.”

According to the Red Cross, Katrina destroyed 68,729 houses and apartments in Mississippi.

Another 65,237 suffered major damage and an estimated 100,318 had minor damage.

The houses where the Hillel volunteers worked had been cleared of debris, but no repairs could begin until the roofs were stable and the electricity was restored. Homeowners weren’t able to move in immediately after the roofs were fixed, but the volunteers knew their help would be a signifi cant step forward for the families. The volunteers spent Jan. 8- 15 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, which has led an interfaith effort in smaller towns outside Gulfport on debris removal, basic rebuilding and home cleanup. Some students slept in the church’s sanctuary on air mattresses or put sleeping bags on pews at night. There was one indoor shower and two outside.

Jewish services were held in the church’s day care and the volunteers ate a Sabbath meal with many of the homeowners they had helped.

Besides Koss, the student volunteers were Kerin Berger, Danielle Ferraioli, David Redbord, Lewis Levenberg, Rachel Kaplan, Jackie Fishman, Sarah Finger and Tammy Rosen. Each paid $400 for the trip; grants from the campus and national Hillel organizations subsidized transportation costs.

Farber expects to take another group of nine students to Mississippi in March.

Koss isn’t eligible to go with that group, but she, too, plans to return later this year. She’s a human development major who hopes to become a rabbi and believes she has something to offer as a counselor for hurricane survivors.

“Community service,” Koss said, “is something I’ve always been dedicated to.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08