Mather Apartments Ready For Katrina Evacuees

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, September 29, 2005

The apartments used to be officers’ quarters at the former Air Force Base and for the past two weeks volunteers like Cheryl Craig have been preparing the units for displaced families.

"Cleaning, moving in, organizing and decorating the apartments. Just making sure it’s nice and pretty for them so they can feel at home and it’s a home for them and I’m sure they’ll be happy."

Scrubbing away at a stainless steel kitchen sink, Craig says the past few weeks have been labor intensive. "Oh yeah, but that’s the whole joy of it because you know that you’re doing your part to help and the motivation is just knowing that these people are without homes and their family needs to have somewhere to lay their heads and that’s my motivation."

A few units down the hall, former New Orleans resident Donna Gibson checks out an apartment. "Yeah, this is nice. I love this."

All the units are furnished with carpeting, fresh paint and furniture. This unit even as an entertainment center minus the television.

"I didn’t think it was going to be this nice and big. The furniture is nice. All they need is a TV in there. But I love it."

Gibson came to the Sacramento area with her partner Donnel Leban. He’s a 50 year old New Orleans native who used to be a chef in the city’s famed French Quarter. "I’ve been cooking in the French Quarter for 20 years. Stow Steak and Lobster House."

When they heard Hurricane Katrina was coming, they quickly left town.

"We was in Texas watching the hurricane on the news and we thought we was just going to be out for a night at a hotel room until the hurricane passed because we never had nothing like that in New Orleans before. And we got to Texas, we turned the TV on and we seen all the devastation and our heart fell. We had no more home. We couldn’t believe it."

Since they have family here, they decided to come to the Sacramento area. For the past few weeks they’ve been getting an allowance from the Red Cross to pay for a hotel room. But Leban says he’s anxious to have a semi-permanent place to live so that he can concentrate on finding a job.

"We still got to find a way to get money for food and clothing. We got a little girl in school. We put her in school out here. She goes to Joseph Kerr in Elk Grove. I’ve got me and my old lady and another son. So I’ve got to start working to provide. We got the housing part down pat now I just need to get me a little job so we can get some funds flowing in."

The transitional housing units were reconditioned by Volunteers of America. Local president Leo McFarland says they’ll be housing evacuees rent-free for between three to six months.

"We expect probably to serve about 35 families so that could be a family of three, it could be a family of six. I’m just thrilled at the response from everybody who has shown up here. They’re just so grateful. This is really touching our hearts, it’s apparently touching their hearts. Everybody I’ve talked to is just happy as can be so we’re quite pleased with the outcome." 

McFarland says it’ll cost them about $5,000 dollars per family for six-months of service. The non-profit group is still recruting volunteers and accepting donations.