“So we’re looking for donations of clothing in good
condition. Any size, any style is fine and any gender will work. We can also
use bedding and other linens. There are a lot of hurting people over on
Louisiana’s North Shore who need clean, wearable garments as they try to pick
up the pieces of their lives.” Pastor Stephen Grayson looked bowed under the
weight of his concern for the flood victims across the state line. “A truck and
van convoy will leave Cypress Point early Wednesday with all the donations we
collect along with the contributions of the other churches here in town. We’re
putting together an ecumenical relief mission. If you have contributions or a
vehicle to help us deliver them, I urge you to contact the church office for
instructions.” He gestured to Robert Cornwell, the church’s Minister of Music.
“Please rise for our closing hymn, page 201 in your hymnal. Remain standing for the prayer of dismissal following.”
* * * * *
As the congregation filed out of Community Christian Church after the service, conversations turned to the flooding and its impact on south Louisiana and Mississippi. Hope Appleton, Susannah Bowles and Mercy McKay compared notes on what they might be able to gather.
“I just finished a prototype of a new baby blanket pattern,”
said Mercy. “I’ll take a couple of photos and then I can donate the blanket.
And I’m sure I can come up with some clothes to add to the collection.”
Hope took a deep breath before she spoke. “I’ve known for
some time I should go through Duncan’s closet and donate his clothes. This
would probably be a good time to do it. Someone can make good use of his suits
and shirts.” Sadness washed across her face. “I hope I can get through the job.”
Mercy settled an arm around her older sister’s shoulders. “I’ll
help you, you know. You won’t have to do it alone.”
She was rewarded with a weak smile from Hope.
“Count me in, too,” added Susannah. “I remember how hard it was disposing of Wilson’s things. There are still a few I couldn’t part with, and it’s okay. But someone else needed those clothes and accessories more than my closet did. Knowing the church would benefit helped a lot.”
“Let’s get some lunch and get to work,” said Hope. “If I don’t
get started now, I might lose my nerve.”
The three women left, and headed over to Hope’s house.
* * * * *
Macaroni salad and tuna sandwiches fortified them for the task. A bake-and-serve peach pie filled the house with a spicy sweet scent of cinnamon as it baked. It would be cooked, cooled and perfect for serving by the time they finished.
“Here we go,” Hope announced. “Nothing to do but begin.”
“No time like the present,” said Susannah with a smile. “Your turn, Mercy. Got any saying to encourage us?”
“Umm, can I borrow a line from that shoe company and say ‘Just do it’?”
“Works for me,” said Hope. Her smile seemed less forced than it had at church, as though she had become acclimated to the thought of the task at hand.
The trio headed into the bedroom and began the project of packing up Duncan Appleton’s clothing. Soon the queen-sized bed was covered with stacks of garments. Business and casual wear piled high as garment after garment was considered and sorted.
“I think we should box them up by size,” Hope said, as she surveyed the bed. “When he lost weight after his first heart attack, we got Duncan almost a whole new wardrobe. He always thought he’d get back into his regular size, but he never did. So there are really two wardrobes here.”
“I have some boxes over at my place, Hope,” said Mercy. “I’ll run next door and get them while you find a couple of markers so we can label them.”
“And I’ll put the coffee on,” laughed Susannah. “We will have earned a break when we finish packing up.”
Susannah started the pot of coffee and reentered the bedroom. She found Hope sitting on the edge of the bed with her head buried in a faded yellow sweatshirt. She walked over and put a hand on her friend’s shoulder.
“I know this is tough, Hope, but you’re doing a good work here.”
Hope looked up, as tears pooled in her eyes and coursed down her cheeks.
“He got this sweatshirt while TD was attending USM. I just realized it’s more than a quarter-century old. Who would want this old thing?”
“You mean, besides you?” asked Susannah. “I think you should keep it, kiddo. You and Duncan made a lot of memories while TD was at college. I don’t think you ever missed a football game and you attended every extracurricular event he took part in. That shirt could never mean to anyone else what it means to you.” She reached over to the box of tissues of the nightstand and removed two of them. After handing one to Hope, she used the other on her own brimming eyes.
Hope held the shirt close to her heart. “I still miss him so much.”
“I know. I still miss Wilson, too. I don’t think we ever stop missing someone we love so much. We just learn to go on. And remember that we’ll be together again one day in heaven.”
A clatter at the bedroom door drew their attention. Mercy pushed a cardboard box through the door with one foot while she balanced three more folded ones across her arms.
“If these aren’t enough, I can go back for more,” she said. “I guess my procrastination about disposing of them as I unpacked paid off, huh?”
Hope and Susannah laughed through their tears at Mercy’s disheveled appearance. Bits of cardboard and dust dotted her clothes and several curls escaped her hair clip.
“Comedy relief, that’s me, at your service,” observed Mercy as she pushed back the errant curls.
Hope folded the sweatshirt and placed it on her dresser.
“Let’s get this finished so we can have some coffee and pie. I’ve got vanilla ice cream, too. Any takers?”
Mercy and Susannah chattered over each other in a rush to request ice cream. With the three of them sorting and labeling, the job was done in less than a quarter hour and they rewarded their labors as promised.
* * * * *
Early Wednesday morning, the (LOL)4 piled into Susannah’s pickup truck and joined the caravan lining up in the church parking lot. Volunteers loaded the pickups, vans and panel trucks with boxes of donated items. When the goods from Community Christian were loaded, the little band headed over to the next church on the list. By 10 a.m., the line of vehicles stretched to thirty as more joined at each location. Five churches had filled the cargo areas of all of the vehicles with the donations from the community. Joseph Franconi of Franconi’s Deli had sent along a dozen buffet-sized pans of pasta and meat sauce, with stacks of plates and utensils. Thomas and Roberta Seal had donated cases of bottled water as well as cleaning supplies.
The route to Ponchatoula wound along interstate highways before turning off onto local roads. High water marks on trees and structures, and piles of refuse greeted the eyes of the volunteers. In block after block, people could be seen tearing out damaged building materials as they tried to salvage their homes and businesses.
“This is worse than I imagined it,” whispered Hope. “These poor people have been through so much.”
“We’re here and we’re bringing what we can. Once we unload these donations, we’ll find out what else is needed and try to supply the need,” said Susannah.
The caravan pulled into the parking lot of the sponsoring church in Ponchatoula. The water line visible on the brickwork showed that though the foundation had been under water, the main part of the building had been above the flood level and spared water damage. A giant canopy tent set up in the playground area held tables and benches and a crew of adults sat in wait. Once the vehicles parked, the people rose and poured in a wave toward them. The unloading began.
Each box or bag went from person to person toward the
fellowship hall, a “bucket brigade” of helpers who made quick work of the task.
By 3 p.m., all of the vehicles were empty. Pastor Chuck Larsen of the local congregation asked
God’s blessing on the food and the volunteers before the pans of food were served
to the workers and anyone else who happened along. They all sat down under the
canopy to eat.
Some of the men volunteered to assist with gutting homes in
the area before they returned to Cypress Point. Pastor Larsen gave them
addresses of families needing help before he sought out the three women to ask
“We’ve received word that Clara Selkirk can’t get out of her
home to get supplies because an injury. I wonder if I could impose on you
ladies to bring her some of this bounty? She’d be less intimidated by women
coming to her door than men she didn’t recognize.”
“Of course, we’ll be glad to,” said Susannah. “Can you give
us directions? I don’t know Ponchatoula very well.”
Pastor Larsen wrote down the address and directions for
Susannah while Hope went to tell Pastor Grayson where they were going. Mercy
began gathering water, food and cleaning supplies in the back of Susannah’s
truck. In ten minutes, the women were on their way to Clara Selkirk’s home.
The elderly lady’s eyes lit up when she saw the bounty they
brought to her. Following the delivery, the ladies headed back to Cypress
Point, tired but gratified by what they had been able to accomplish.
“Clara gave me her phone number and asked us to stay in
touch. She’s such a sweetheart!” observed Mercy.
“Everyone we met today was wonderful,” replied Hope. “Hard
to believe they’ve been through so much lately and still remain so positive.”
“Seems to me we should copy their attitude,” said Susannah. “They
are living out their faith, extending a helping hand to those in need in spite
of their own difficulties. A worthy model, don’t you think?”
* * * * *
By Sunday, the members of Community Christian had collected even more donations for the flood survivors in Louisiana. In worship service, Pastor Grayson updated everyone as part of his benediction.
“Our mission to bring relief supplies to our neighbors in Ponchatoula blessed us as much as, if not more than, the folks we set out to help. We made some new friends and renewed old friendships. Chuck Larsen reported that the supplies we brought have helped people in three towns and enabled his church to reach out to many residents who didn’t have someone to help them until a church member showed up. The most recent collections by our congregation will be delivered tomorrow to Livingston Parish. As you go through your week, take time to thank God for what you have and what you have been able to share.
"Keep the folks in Louisiana in your prayers, please. They
have a long road ahead as they rebuild. Thank you all for your generous hearts
and willing hands. Go out into the world as beacons of God’s love.”
Three gray-haired women joined the exodus from the sanctuary
at the conclusion of the service.
“Let’s go check out some closets, eh, girls?” laughed Mercy.
“I think I can part with a few more things.”
Hope and Susannah nodded agreement and they set out, three
(LOL)4 women with happy hearts.
© 2016 Mary Beth Magee