Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Evacuees Find First Coast Eager to Help Them Start Anew; Churches and Relief Agencies Host a Central Event for 1,600 Families Who Went to Red Cross

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Evacuees Find First Coast Eager to Help Them Start Anew; Churches and Relief Agencies Host a Central Event for 1,600 Families Who Went to Red Cross

Article excerpt

Byline: BRAD SCHMIDT

On the day Katrina became a Category 5 hurricane, Tony and Chenita Bernard left their one-bedroom apartment in New Orleans for Jacksonville.

They came with $60 and little else. The space in their Ford Focus wagon went to Tony's extended family, a total of seven people packed in a compact car, leaving their day-to-day lives behind.

And for the Bernards, there will be no going back.

Standing in the First Baptist Church of Mandarin parking lot Saturday, Bernard said he hadn't realized how bad they had it in New Orleans.

"If we was at home, it wouldn't be this nice," said Bernard, a 28-year-old cook. "That's not something we're used to."

Looking back at it, Bernard figures 75 percent of the people living in New Orleans were mean. Fifteen percent did what they wanted, looked out for themselves. And the remaining 10 percent were OK.

In Jacksonville, Bernard said, everyone he runs into offers a helping hand.

The Bernards found that again Saturday at an evacuee reception program, where hundreds received food, clothing, medical assessments and access to government agencies. The event was sponsored by First Baptist of Mandarin, United Way, the American Red Cross, the city of Jacksonville, and the office of Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville.

The Rev. Karl Hodges, a pastor at First Baptist, said the storm has affected all walks of life. Looking out at the crowd, he said, it's impossible to tell who is who -- whether they're from Jacksonville or New Orleans or somewhere in Mississippi, whether they are doctors or lawyers or people working to get by.

"The thing is, we wanted to give them a hand up, not a handout," Hodges said.

Chenita Bernard and her extended family -- they're here too, evacuated from New Orleans and staying at a relative's Southside house -- found necessities such as toiletries and clothing.

"It's very helpful because at home there's nothing left," said Chenita Bernard, 26, formerly a hospital records clerk. …

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