Convoy of Hope returns Saturday

Published 3:48 pm Thursday, November 12, 2009

When Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast region over four years ago, the world’s attention was mostly focused on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and not some small county in southwest Mississippi.

With devastation beyond any recent memories, in Katrina’s aftermath residents of Pearl River County suddenly found themselves living in a world they did not recognize nor were fully prepared for. Trees were toppled, roofs blown off, and vehicles destroyed. Many roads were impassable, food and clean water were scarce, and electricity suddenly had become a luxury of the past. Grocery stores scrambled to save perishables, gas stations attempted to find ways to be able to sell gas, and local hotels, struggling with their own damages, opened their doors for displaced residents to stay.

While the National Guard did not arrive for three days, and FEMA was around a couple of days later but literally unable to provide information on when help would arrive, two non-profit Christian-based organizations showed up first, offering clean drinking water, food, and services to the residents of the county.

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One of those, the Convoy of Hope out of Missouri, arrived with a tractor trailer load of food and supplies for the residents and immediately began distributing the items to eager residents.

And the Convoy of Hope is returning this weekend, not for disaster relief, but for a free Community Day event.

The local section of Convoy of Hope is hosting a Community Service Day at Friendship Park in Picayune this Saturday, November 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“The Picayune Convoy of Hope is part of the nationwide organization out of Springfield, Missouri,” explained Darren Champagne, one of the local organizers of the event. “The Convoy of Hope partners with area churches for the community day.” The day is meant to provide a number of free services including health and employment job fairs, as well as a way for local churches and volunteers to get to know community members offering love and support.

Going on to explain that the event would be set up on the soccer fields of the park, Champagne said there would be a free lunch for everyone attending, free haircuts, pediatric evaluations, as well as a number of other free services. Some of the local businesses participating include, among others, Highland Community Hospital, Jacob’s Well, and Moore Chiropractic. Organizations include, among others, the Lion’s Club, Red Cross, and Angel Food.

In addition, there will be a Kids Zone featuring inflatable jumpers, puppets shows, and activities.

Champagne said that when people arrive to participate in the event, they will first be treted to a gospel presentation and then can go eat lunch before visiting the number of participating vendors. He said there will also be live entertainment through-out the day with between four and six bands performing on stage.

On the way out, Champagne said, participants can receive spiritual counseling if they want and will be given two bags of groceries.

“When they leave, we ask if there is anything we can pray about with them and then we give them two bags of groceries,” said Champagne.

While not called a “chapter” of the Convoy of Hope, Champagne said the local organization — Picayune Convoy of Hope — has to raise funds for their own budget and recruit volunteers for future emergencies. “They did one right after the storm and had some grants still available so they decided to come back,” said Champagne.

Convoy of Hope was started in 1994 by Hal Donaldson.

According to their website, Donaldson learned early in life how a person’s life can be turned upside down by a tragedy or disaster when his parents were involved in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. His father was killed in the crash and his mother faced a long recovery and was unable to care for the children.

While the Donaldson children fared better than many in such circumstances due to local churches and community members providing food and shelter, the experience of the hardship planted a seed in Donaldson’s mind and he founded the organization 15 years ago.

Originally, the mission behind Convoy of Hope was to partner with local churches to help people in need, but over the years it has grown into a worldwide movement where those in need of help receive groceries, medical and dental screenings, haircuts, help in finding employment, and prayer. It also combats hunger many children in world face, feeding children in impoverished countries.

Convoy of Hope holds up to 50 community events each year, such as the one being held on Saturday, where free groceries are distributed, job and health fairs are held, and activities for the kids are provided.

Champagne said everyone is welcome to attend the free event — to come out, have a good time, eat a hearty lunch, and take advantage of the free services being offered.

For more information on the Community Day, call Mr. Champagne at 601- 798-3126.