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Faith coalitions aid evacuees

Churches, mosques, and synagogues have stepped forward to provide Katrina evacuees the kind of assistance that government can't.

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The day before hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Daniel and Pamela Gillard evacuated to Dry Creek, La. They stayed there for a month, unable to check on the home they'd left behind. Then hurricane Rita took dead aim at the shelter where they were staying, so they headed northeast - all the way to Boston.

Like more than 500 other Gulf Coast "guests" who are still here, the couple has lived in a hotel while sorting out their future. With a huge sigh of relief, they are moving this week into affordable housing in nearby Newton, Mass.

Amid the uncertainty and complications, the Gillards have relied on their faith and on the Coalition of the Caring - religious congregations working alongside government and community agencies to help evacuees get a fresh start.

"The churches have been wonderful - they've stepped up to the plate for people who've wanted that help, spiritually and otherwise," says Ms. Gillard.

In Boston and other metropolitan areas, coalitions of faith groups have formed to give emotional, spiritual, and practical support to evacuees confronted with immediate needs for housing, jobs, healthcare, and schools for their children. As on the Gulf Coast, religious groups are responding in ways that government cannot. MassFaithHelps, formed for that purpose, is working with 120 families. It has matched 50 of them with congregations committed to providing a guide for the family and to assist in various ways for six to 12 months.

"It's meeting the needs of people where they are," says Jackie Maloney, a guide at Bethel AME Church in Boston. "Taking them to find doctors, to shop for school supplies, dishes, furniture; helping musicians find replacement instruments."

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