A Salvation Army giveaway offers displaced hurricane victims the chance to enjoy a home-style Thanksgiving

Homesickness takes a holiday

November 23, 2005|By RONA MARECH | RONA MARECH,SUN REPORTER

A mean gumbo, turkey with fixings and a couple of toys can go a long way toward healing homesickness and holiday blues.

That's what Baltimore Salvation Army administrators figured in organizing yesterday's holiday giveaway for Maryland's Hurricane Katrina evacuees. About 100 families passed through the organization's warehouse in Baltimore to pick up $50 debit cards for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and $100 Wal-Mart gift cards for Christmas presents.

Families with children also could choose gifts from two long tables loaded with donated stuffed animals, dolls, toy cars, tea sets, footballs and other juvenile delights.

"Kids don't understand what we've been through. All they know is it's Christmastime, and they want to see their gifts under the tree," said Tameeka Patrick of Jackson, Miss., who was helping her friend Kimberly Lampkin pick out presents for her four children. "By [the Salvation Army] helping us, we don't have to explain."

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency estimated that about 1,000 displaced families moved to Maryland in September. Many have since moved on, said Peggy Vick, director of volunteer and family services at the Maryland Salvation Army. Her agency has helped about 400 of them.

It was quiet in the warehouse as some of the same families patiently waited their turns, but emotions were running high.

Cecelia Cayette spoke tearfully about how she felt abandoned by her New Orleans landlord, who was allowing renters to stay on rent-free but wouldn't take responsibility for them or vouch for the structural integrity of the buildings.

Others lamented that because the hurricane scattered their loved ones, they would be celebrating without grandmothers, parents and siblings. Some families had managed to move en masse to Maryland but will be cobbling together meals without proper tables or cookware. Many still are searching for housing and jobs.

"It's going to be different. We're used to being home," said Dion Barquet, 39, who moved to Columbia from New Orleans with 13 family members. "But we'll make the best of it."

At least the prospect of dining like royalty - even if they were strangers in a strange place - helped evacuees' holiday spirits. Some, with their $50 debit cards in hand, were heading straight for the supermarket.

Cayette recited her family's Thanksgiving menu: gumbo, ham, smoked turkey, sweet-potato pie, baked macaroni. Her father, who has remained in Louisiana, has promised to make his twice-a-year specialty, pecan candies. He is expected to arrive today with boiled crabs for the gumbo.

Some evacuees had ordered seasonings online or returned from trips South with critical ingredients. Others, however, were bemoaning the difficulty of finding the right kind of crabs, hot sauces, and seasonings for their jambalayas, oyster dressings and gumbos.

"We like our food real hot," said Kevin Thorpe, 37, who left New Orleans with his two daughters and his fiancee.

But hot or not, fresh crabs or not, many of Maryland's newest residents said they had much to be thankful for despite their recent trials.

"I miss New Orleans," said Christina Williams, who will be celebrating Thanksgiving here with almost a dozen family members. "But as long as I'm with my family, I'm OK."

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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