3056 Hurricane Katrina: What Happened, How You Can Help

Sponsor: Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Staff


  • Joe Sullivan, Manager, UUA/UU Service Committee (UUSC) Gulf Coast Relief Fund
  • Megan Lloyd Joiner, Administrator, UUA/UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund
  • Jyaphia Christos-Rodgers, First Unitarian Universalist Church , New Orleans , and Director of Information Systems and Program Development for the New Orleans Jobs Initiative (NOJI)
  • The Rev. Jacqueline Luck, minister, UU Church of Jackson and Our Home UU Church in Ellisville
  • Jennifer Nichols-Payne, staff, Southwest Unitarian Universalist Conference
  • Eunice Benton, District Executive, Mid-South District.
  • The Rev. Jim VanderWeele, Community Church of New Orleans
  • Martha Thompson, Program Manager, Rights in Humanitarian Crises, UUSC
  • The Rev. Tyrone Edwards, Baptist minister, New Orleans
  • Mary Fontenot, Director, All Congregations Together (ACT)
  • Chere Dastugue Coen, author
  • Susan Leslie, Director, Congregational Advocacy & Witness, UUA

Prepared for UUA.org by Mike McNaughton, Reporter; Jone Johnson Lewis, Editor.

Joe Sullivan, Program Manager of the UUA/UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund, introduced the program and the speakers. Joe was supported by Megan Joiner, the administrator of the fund, who coordinates the website Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the U.S. Gulf Coast and welcomes email at gulfcoastrelief@uua.org.

Jyaphia Christos-Rodgers described the importance of assisting people with low incomes. In New Orleans, job security has a lot to do with skin color, and the inequity during and after Katrina had been set up for generations. Nevertheless, there was a strong sense of community which is important to re-establish.

Rev. Jacquelyn Luck, minister of the UU Church of Jackson and Our Home UU Church in Ellisville, is the only full-time UU minister in Mississippi. Although the news of Katrina focused on New Orleans, Ellisville was swept by several tornados that spun off from Katrina, creating many refugees in Mississippi. She served as chaplain to these refugees for two weeks at the Coliseum in Jackson.

Jennifer Nichols-Payne described how important it was that the UUA had a disaster relief team named and ready to go before the disaster. Furthermore, almost 1,000 people offered their homes for use by the team, and although the team did not need that many, the offers of help were heartwarming.

Eunice Benton, UUA District Executive for the Mid-South District, emphasized the importance of good communications. Text messaging was the method of choice, provided everyone found a way to charge their cell phones without regular electricity. She listed the silver linings, one of which is the new Community Minister, Jinnie Trabulso, who is now working in the district. The work is not done, we were told; it will take 5 years.

The Rev. Jim VanderWeele is the minister of the Community Church UU of New Orleans. "We had a church," he told us. "Now we don't." They have lost 40% of their members, and 40%of the people lost their homes. "We are grateful for the support we have received, and we will continue to need support," he emphasized.

Martha Thompson of the UUSC described the race and class dynamics of the disaster. There was a lack of government support at every level, but most disappointing was the lack of focus on the most vulnerable people. People of color and of low income are having a hard time getting back home.

Rev. Tyrone Edwards, a Baptist minister from one of the most remote areas of New Orleans , praised Martha Thompson as the new Mother Theresa. He had never heard of Unitarian Universalism, and still doesn't know a lot about it, but he declared with enthusiasm "This is one Baptist who will stand up and cheer for the UUSC."

Mary Fontenot, Director of All Congregations Together (ACT), agreed. "You give us hope, you give us courage, and you back it up," she declared. "We still need every sort of skill: house-builders, nurses, psychologists. In the Ninth Ward, nobody is thinking of us. If you have any skills, including just patting us on the back, we need you," she continued.

Chere Dastague Coen re-iterated that the recovery is a long process. "We still need people to clean up. Please contact: gulfcoastrelief@uua.org."

Finally, Susan Leslie of the UUA told us how we can be advocates for interfaith worker justice, to ensure fair contracts, and to ensure immigrant workers get paid. "Let's not just rebuild," she implored, "Let's rebuild with justice."

For more information: