Sharp County residents open homes, kitchens, wallets for refugees
As one crew was preparing to host the Highland Rebel football team for a pre-game meal Friday night in the Family Life Center at Ash Flat Church of Christ, another crew was preparing for a more serious task.
At least two Greyhound buses full of refugees from Hurricane Katrina were expected to arrive any day seeking food and shelter.
"We don't know when they're coming, but we're getting ready for them now," said Cynde Gregson, wife of Pastor Keith Gregson and one of the coordinators of the local relief effort.
The church has been activated as a shelter by Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's office, Gregson said.
Personnel from the Salvation Army's Mountain Home office were on hand to direct the process, working with Pete Reilly of the Sharp County Office of Emergency Management.
Gregson said Mission of Hope in Hardy would also serve hurricane victims, and First Baptist Church in Cherokee Village had offered assistance as well.
The first order of business would be to assist the refugees in registering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Gregson said.
The church was arranging to provide three meals a day for all the refugees, with donations from Clyde's Chuck Wagon Restaurant in Cherokee Village. The Salvation Army also provided a truckload of food.
The church will serve as a shelter for as long as needed, but Gregson said homes will be sought for families to stay in.
"People in the community have been calling all day, offering food, assistance and whatever we need," Gregson said.
Sharp County Judge Joe Stidman said the refugees would be processed at the Sharp County Courthouse. He said county officials were trying to prepare without knowing how many would be coming, when they would arrive or how long they would stay.
Highland School District Superintendent Ronnie Brogdon anticipated enrolling refugee students.
"We will enroll them just like homeless kids, with or without records," Brogdon said. "Those kids need to be educated. It could be a long time before those schools in south Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast are reopened."
The Katrina Relief account has been set up at FNBC for donations to hurricane victims staying in Sharp County.
Checks to the account should be made out to Katrina Relief and taken to any FNBC location.
Those who wish to volunteer or contribute can call the church at 870-994-2430.