While shoveling muck and gutting homes ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Ketchum resident Jima Rice discovered two Spanish martini glasses—one upstairs and one downstairs. Rice set the glasses aside from heaps of insulation, carpet, and appliances pulled from the house.
"I gave them back so (the homeowners) could celebrate when they got back on their feet," Rice said.
Rice and seven other Wood River Valley residents—Art Dahl, Bobbie Dahl, Barbara Capik, Bill Bunting, Bob Schrey, Derrick May and Karen Mott—ventured to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild the surrounding communities.
"Some of us—all of us—had wanted to do something with our own hands, rather than just give money," Art Dahl said.
The group operated in the area between Jan. 7 and 14 through Camp Coast Care, a relief center for survivors of Hurricane Katrina in Long Beach, Miss. The group primarily consisted of members of St. Thomas Episcopal Church based in Ketchum.
The team went to the Camp Coast Care facility, a Lutheran/Episcopal based facility under the direction of the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Mississippi. Located in a school gym, the center offers housing for volunteers who arrive to clean and rebuild homes in the devastated community. The center also operates a free food and clothing distribution center, as well as a free medical clinic.
The Wood River Valley team went to gut and muck homes in the area, cleaning residences destroyed by the mud, water and winds that ravaged the area in September.
"They really did a lot...but it still looks like a war zone," Capik said.
Over the week, the volunteers stripped three dwellings to the studs. The work involved sorting personal belongings, removing appliances, pulling down sheet rock, shoveling mud and tearing out carpets.
"You don't get the depth of the damage," May said.
The debris was then removed from houses and piled on the streets. Sporadically, bulldozers operated by the Army Core of Engineers come by to remove the heaps.
The volunteers compared the extreme damage to a giant washing machine ravaging the area. The group saw the aftermath, including a shoe wedged into a home's rafters and a pillow caught in a ceiling fan. The ruins were magnified by water damage.
"It is one thing to find everything gone, its another thing to find everything there and rotting," Art Dahl said.
The volunteers worked day after day to remove the ruined building materials and belongings. In the rubble, the team found delicate items that had survived—ranging from a stained glass window to a bottle of Dom Perignon.
"What really surprised me were some of the things that survived," Rice said.
The volunteers delighted in the enduring positive spirits of residents.
"The people down there were really heroic," Art Dahl said.
During the interview, all the volunteers preferred to call the people survivors, rather than victims.
"Everyone was, all in all, pretty up and up considering everything they had been through," Mott, a Louisiana native, said.
The group helped an elderly retired teacher, a working class couple, and a successful businessman clean their homes. Completing the need-blind assistance work demonstrated the indiscriminate nature of the natural disaster.
At one point the work brought volunteers to clean a house on the Bogg family compound, a prominent political Louisiana family.
"They were just another people being helped by volunteers," Mott said.
Gratitude exemplified the spirit of the people. One man thanked the Wood River volunteers by throwing a chili dog party. The hotdog feast and other experiences united the team, who returned inspired and enthused.
"We got so much more out of it then we put into it," Bobbie Dahl said.