Joe and Kellie McEvoy made a mission of mercy that not only improved the lives of Hurricane Katrina victims in Mississippi, but changed their own lives as well.
Who would have thought that bringing something as simple as laundry detergent, ice and paper plates to someone could make that person so happy?
The McEvoys know that feeling.
Members of the Rotary Club of Poipu Beach and other clubs made donations amounting to about $6,000 for Katrina victims. The McEvoys paid for their own plane tickets and other expenses
Joe McEvoy, a member of the Rotary Club of Poipu Beach, and his wife Kellie, are also both members of the Kauai Christian Fellowship.
They spent about 10 days literally going door-to-door in poorer neighborhoods, distributing supplies, good cheer and aloha to residents of Lucedale, Miss., a small city with less then 2,700 people, and Pascagoula Miss., a larger, coastal city hit with a 30-foot storm surge.
What they received in return was Southern hospitality, deep appreciation, and some homemade pecan pie.
“It changed me a lot. It made me more appreciative of what I have,” said Kellie McEvoy.
“Even though they lost everything, they had the greatest spirit. We wanted to bless them, but it turned out they blessed us,” she said.
“It was my most memorable Rotary experience,” Joe McEvoy said.
“Every day was a project.”
The couple, who have two children, returned Sept. 25.
The McEvoys paid their own way, and embarked on an adventure that united Rotarians from very diverse places to help people who if not completely displaced from their homes, faced deprivation and isolation.
The couple, after leaving Kaua’i on separate days, united in Houston, rented a cargo truck, and left for Lucedale, where they met up with Lucedale Rotarian Dean Belton.
Lucedale has become a sister club of the Poipu Beach club.
The McEvoys paid for the truck rental, and laid out thousands of dollars of their money for relief supplies. They own Kauai Lumber Company in Lawa’i.
“We knew they had food and water and that FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) was there,” said Joe McEvoy.
So, the couple concentrated on day-to-day items most of us take for granted, but lent dignity to hurricane victims whose homes were filled with three feet of water but who could not afford to leave and stay in a hotel.
They stocked up on laundry detergent, bleach, toilet paper, diapers, deodorant, paper towels, insect repellent, paper plates, plastic utensils and vitamins. They also wound up buying a lot of clothing from Wal-Mart.
“They left behind everything, and when they came back all their clothes were gone because of the flooding,” Joe McEvoy said.
The McEvoys met a woman named Pam Fairly who would eventually become their “guide,” and took them to poor, hard-hit sections of Pascagoula.
“We started going neighborhood to neighborhood. All of the richer people were able to leave,” he said. “All of a sudden, people came out of their houses. They took only what they needed,” he said. “We could get them things fast. Some people had to wait in FEMA lines for eight hours.”
The McEvoys mentioned that a number of buildings that hosted Rotary Club meetings in the Gulf Cost had been destroyed, but that Rotarians were active in the relief effort nonetheless.
They stayed with a family in Lucedale, and were surprised when an elderly relative of the family baked them a pecan pie. They learned to “enjoy” catfish, but not at every meal, and discovered hushpuppies and sweet tea, he said.
D.Q. Jackson, a past president of the Rotary Club of Poipu Beach, said, “once you leave your club and work with other Rotarians, it’s life-changing. It opens up the world.”
Jackson knows of what he speaks. An emergency-room nurse at Wilcox Memorial Hospital, he has made at least two Rotaplast (Rotary plastic surgery) missions to Cebu in the Philippines, every time coming back a changed man because of the help he helped deliver to impoverished people.
When the McEvoys were leaving the area, they were accosted five miles down the road by their “guide,” Fairly.
“She said, ‘I just wanted to thank you again. Right now I’m doing my laundry. I can’t believe that two people from Hawai’i would come to do this for people in Mississippi,'” Joe McEvoy said of the experience. “It brought tear to my eyes. If you can make a difference in one person’s life, then you’ve made a difference in the world,” he said.
- Andy Gross, business editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or email@example.com