Writing Samples

About the Samples
Back to What We've Done

Back to Ed's Home Page

Katrina Mississippi Christmas

©2006 Ed Wischmeyer

“For the things that we take for granted – a pen and a piece of paper to write on, a pan to cook in, dishes to serve my family, a roof over my head, and running water”—these are what Cynthia Villarreal is grateful for after a week-long Christmas trip to Katrina-ravaged Mississippi.

Villarrreal’s husband, Apolonio (Ap), thought of volunteering his services as a cook. As Executive Chef for Chartwell’s food services at a Prescott, AZ, college, Ap had two weeks off while school was out. When neither the Red Cross nor the Salvation Army returned his calls, Fr. Paul Crowell of St. Luke’s, Prescott, suggested he contact dioceses in the Southeast and see who could use their help. The Diocese of Mississippi called back, and the Villareals started planning to spend Christmas just west of Gulfport, MS, in Long Beach, population 17,000 – that is, 17,000 before Katrina.

The original plan was to tow a borrowed trailer to Mississippi. Donations for the trip include warm clothing, blankets, over the counter medicines, and food. Much of this was from the needs-list on a web site, including canned meat and protein items, canned vegetables, juices, bottled drinks other than water, fruit and soups.

Cynthia says that supporting this effort “brought the church together. There was so much excitement and so many volunteers.” There were boxes and boxes of food donated mostly by St. Luke’s parishioners, but Chartwell’s, Ap’s employer, donated commercial size food supplies. Even the students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where Ap works, contributed. The contributions quickly overwhelmed the trailer concept, and a 16-foot Penske truck rental was contributed.

Originally St. Luke’s volunteered to provide Christmas presents for 20 children, but St. Patrick’s sent 83 names. Even with Fr. Paul on vacation, the church family took care of every name.

Cynthia related that “people would come up to me and say, ‘I picked a 13 year old boy because I have a 13 year old grandson and he could tell me what to get.’ People brought in new or nearly new blankets and clothes. Even our St. Lukes school family contributed. [People were involved] in helping, in sorting, in boxing, in wrapping Christmas presents.”

“It also brought our parish together in prayer. I know they were praying for us on our trip. I know they were praying when we needed a vehicle to drive. I know they were praying for the people in Long Beach, Mississippi.”

Cynthia was excited and tired from working 50 to 60 hours per week getting ready. This was to be her first Christmas not spent with all four of her kids, and she thought this would be depressing and sad. “But in reality, I walked away from there with so many gifts, more than I’ve gotten in any Christmas my whole life.”
Along the way to Long Beach, the Villarreals stopped to pick up even more things requested, including tomatoes, zucchini and fresh fruits.

When the Villarreals arrived in Mississippi, “FEMA and the Red Cross had already moved out, they’d come and gone. What cleanup work was being done was being done by people of faith, all faiths – Jews, Catholics, Christians of all types, and even a Buddhist.”

The diocese sent Ap and Cynthia to Camp Coast Care, which served the local community. Ap cooked three meals a day for 100 to 250 people, but went out into the field to muck out houses and clear debris, and “that meant the most to him.” From web information, they got in touch with Fr. David Knight at St. Patrick’s, Long Beach.

Cynthia worked at Camp Coast Care, where people had physical needs, but often needed someone to talk to or just a hug. She also worked at St. Patrick’s.

Fr. David’s wife, Jennifer, is a registered nurse. She’d tried to volunteer with the Red Cross and at the local hospital, but they could not use her. So, she opened a free clinic that had served over 16,000 people by the end of December. 

Cynthia relates, “When I was talking to Jennifer Knight, she said, ‘I have no idea why our house is still there. Our rug got wet, but the only reason I can think of is that we couldn’t be doing God’s work if we didn’t have a place to lay our head at night.’ “

Cynthia continues, “While I was at Camp Coast Care, I felt like I was walking with God the whole time, because of the believers that were there, because of having Evening Prayer every night, because of the ‘God bless you’s, and the opportunity to be of service to other people.”

“The Katrina boutique was the clothing store. It was full of clothes and shoes for people of all sizes and ages, and sorted as such.” And no sales tax – and no purchase price.

“There are so many people there still living in FEMA tents or trailers. FEMA had certain rules about what utilities were required to put a trailer on your property. Otherwise, the trailer would be in a FEMA park – a parking lot.” Some people opted for pitching a tent so they could stay on their own property.

The excitement wasn’t over when the Villarreals returned to Arizona. They gave a slide presentation in the parish hall, and the hall was packed. Even their dog sitter, who had reduced her rate from $25 to $15 per day, gave them an additional discount.

“I keep in touch with people from all over the United States. I was really surprised that the people in the camp that were working and volunteering – it takes over 40 people a day to run the camp – and the folks who were mucking out houses or clearing debris, were filled with the joy and the love of what they were doing.”

85 osteopathic medical students from all over the United States were part of that volunteer team that arrived after Christmas.

St. Luke’s, Prescott, is working on continued support for St. Patrick’s this year.

Cynthia still keeps in touch with Fr. David, but sparingly, because he has no staff and it’s hard for him to keep up with phone calls and emails except from those in immediate need. “He spends all his time counseling people and helping them find the resources they need,” says Cynthia.

In one email, though, Fr. David wrote to Cynthia, “Thank you for not forgetting us.”


Great User Manuals

Flying the ILS - Technical Manual - Using a complex flight display (pdf)
Good Judgment - Safety Manual - For owner-pilots new to jet flying

Professional Papers

The Myth of the Unstable Approach Airline Safety Conference - old data, new results, future directions (pdf)
Why'd they do that? (PEEMBO ) - Airline Safety Conference - new pilot accident psychology model (pdf)
1,001 Runway Incursions - Systems engineering gives pointed results. Avn Psychology Conference - (pdf)
In Search of Collegiate Flight "Education" - Opinion Piece - why aviation colleges produce poor quality flight instructors

Feature Articles

Biplane Boot Camp - First person - learning to land a biplane (3MB pdf)
F1 Rocket - Pilot Report - flying a 250 mph sport airplane
Vimy - First Person - riding in a WWI bomber I helped build
Wiring Your Panel - Technical reporting - wiring your airplane's instrument panel, yourself (pdf)
Katrina Mississippi Christmas - Reporting - volunteers help out

Aviation Safety Articles

Scud Running - dangers in flying low in bad weather
Finding an adaptable instructor for homebuilt airplane pilots
Report cards for homebuilt airplanes should say... what?

Short Articles

Drake, AZ - Short feature - It's in the road atlas, but is anything there?
Friday Sunset - Memoir - two weeks after Mom passed away
Ed walking his dog near Granite Mountain