Grateful La. evacuees think about staying

Dozens of families get help in county as they pick up the pieces after Katrina


She had fled storms before, but as Jocelyn Richard prepared to leave Jefferson Parish, La., again - this time ahead of Hurricane Katrina - something felt different. "Baby, this is my last hurricane season," she told her husband.

And, it may be. Jocelyn and her husband, Warren, along with their three children - Daniel, 7, Victoria, 5, and Valencia, 3 months - came to Columbia three weeks ago. They are living temporarily with their friends Denise and Emanuel Curry and they are thinking of staying.

The Richards are one of several dozen families who left hurricane-ravaged neighborhoods for Howard County.

With a limited number of evacuees to tend to, the county has extra care and generosity to go around. Some families have been so moved by the community's largesse that they have been persuaded to stick around.

"It was like you hear from your grandmother," Richard said. "When they say, `We were a community. We all looked after each other.' That's the way it was here."

Richard took her newborn baby, who was overdue for a checkup, to the county Health Department, which helped her find a pediatrician and arranged transportation to an appointment where the baby was given her shots and deemed healthy.

The Department of Citizen Services helped the Richards get to Baltimore for a one-stop-shopping event where they picked up coats and winter clothes.

They didn't need as much as they might have, thanks to their friends and neighbors in Columbia.

Emanuel Curry's employer, Southwest Airlines, donated plane tickets to fly them north. Others from the community dropped off a crib and disposable diapers and clothes. Neighbors dropped by to chat and bring gifts for the baby.

About 20 local organizations and departments have been meeting and strategizing to make the delivery of services to evacuees in the area efficient, said Susan Rosenbaum, director of the Department of Citizen Services, which is coordinating the local effort.

By her count, about 50 children have registered in the school system. She estimates that at least 45 families have moved to the county.

The county has been helping evacuees with transportation, housing, medical care, food stamps and cash. Beyond that, it has linked families with local businesses and others eager to help.

Celebration Church in Columbia has been donating dining tables, beds and other items to displaced families and has offered to sponsor a family for a year by providing housing, help with utilities and employment, and other support. Church representatives were set to meet the family, which includes three children, this week, said Jackie Palmer, a ministry leader. The family's New Orleans home was destroyed.

AccuBanc Mortgage, a mortgage company in Columbia, has stockpiled donated items including inflatable beds and toiletries.

When AccuBanc heard of a displaced mother who had given birth to her third child a little more than a week ago, diapers, cribs and baby items came pouring in, said Jeanine Baumgardner, who works at AccuBanc.

The company also hopes to support a family for a year with housing, day care and employment.

"The community outpouring has been incredible, absolutely incredible," Rosenbaum said.

The response has given displaced families a highly favorable impression of the county.

"We love it," Jocelyn Richard said. "The community, the scenery, the trees, the beauty of the area that we've seen, the people.

"We look like we're going to make Maryland our home. Maybe even Howard County. Maybe even Columbia. I don't want to go back."

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