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Volunteer Vacation in Biloxi, Mississippi

Author: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: April 2008

In the evening we attended a revival at a big African-American church. On the bill were a guest evangelist from another church in Mississippi, a praise band, several choirs, several deacons/evangelists/pastors from the host church, and evena small mime troupe. Our group was part of the service too -- as a makeshift choir that fumbled through several gospel pieces before returning to our pews to the sound of kind (but relieved) applause from the congregation.

The whole revival probably took about two and a half hours, and was vastly different than any other church service I'd ever attended. (At times it felt almost like a rock concert, with the visiting evangelist as lead singer.) I was fascinated by -- and grateful for -- the experience.

I volunteered at Loaves and Fishes again today; this time another volunteer and I got to help make the main course, shepherd's pie. At first we took our time layering the ingredients, using a spatula to smooth the mashed potatoes into aesthetically pleasing swirls, but then the cook came up and joked, "Hey, you know, this isn't the Sistine Chapel. We've gotta serve in 10 minutes -- can you hurry it up a bit?" So we did, and shepherd's pie went out (on time) to 80 hungry people. Apparently this particular dish is quite the crowd-pleaser. 

Back at the trailers, we had our own special dinner feast that night: a shrimp boil. I don't know what sort of seasoning was on it, but I have never had shrimp so good! It was served in huge plastic bowls and eaten with our fingers, and we threw the shells straight onto plastic tablecloths for quick cleanup. Easily the best meal of the week!

After several days working on other projects, I finally got the chance to return to our house. What a difference! All four walls were on, and so was the roof. We spent the final day putting on a front deck and cleaning up a bit inside the house.

There's still quite a bit of work to be done before the homeowners can move in, but we accomplished a lot in our five days of work, and the groups to come after us will carry on the task.

That night I met a college friend for dinner in Ocean Springs, about 15 minutes east of Biloxi. It's a very cute little town with lots of restaurants and boutiques, though unfortunately many of these were closed by the time we got there. We had dinner at the Bayview Gourmet (a bit of a misnomer, since there was no bay in sight). The food was good and reasonably priced; I continued my seafood kick with a salad topped with stuffed shrimp, while my friend ordered a "Craburger" (how that differs from a crab cake I couldn't tell you).

I ended the evening with a visit to the Hard Rock Cafe in Biloxi, which I liked better than the Beau Rivage -- the crowd was much younger and more diverse, and they had a live cover band that brought some energy and good music to the place. My friend and I managed to play the slots for an hour and half on just $10; unlike some casinos in other parts of the country, this one still has penny slots for the cheapskates (like me!).

We didn't do much today except clean up the trailers and drive around Biloxi for a few last photo ops. Then it was time to fly home after a very rewarding week. I took home many things from this trip -- like new friendships, new hammering skills, and New Orleans postcards -- but most importantly, I saw for myself both the resilience of the Gulf Coast communities and their continuing need for help even two and a half years after Katrina. I'm grateful for the chance to have contributed to the relief effort in my own small way.

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