Shelter from the Storm

One woman's efforts brought "Operation Love" to Katrina evacuees.

Within 24 hours of saying "yes" to co-coordinating Katrina relief efforts at her home church, Tabernacle Baptist Church in Ennis, Texas, Stacy Hejny was surrounded by thousands of pounds of food, donated clothes, and enough mattresses to line the church's gymnasium. Tabernacle hadn't just opened its doors to evacuees, it had become an official American Red Cross shelter. And Stacy, a 36-year-old working mom, was one of two people in charge of the small army of volunteers it took to keep Tabernacle's "Operation Love" running smoothly. Her co-director was Mike Sellers, Tabernacle's associate pastor.

The task was daunting, as more that 40 exhausted evacuees in Ennis recuperated from their ordeals and waited for homes. Many were from an interconnected group of neighbors and family from the flooded-out Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Working 16-hour days while on a hiatus from her job with her family's cabinetry contracting business, Stacy served families grappling with loss and grief after their flight from the submerged city, meeting needs in order to help restore their fractured lives.

Although the church furnished mattresses—arranged on the gym floor by family groupings—Stacy and the other volunteers soon discovered the logistics of operating a shelter extended far past providing beds. People needed help filling out paperwork for FEMA assistance and lost licenses. Kathy Cikanek, an administrator with the Ennis Independent School District, spent her Labor Day holiday registering evacuees' children into the district's schools; her daughters helped shop for suitable school clothes.

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