Camp Sister Spirit shines in the spotlight

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KNOXVILLE – Hurricane Katrina left devastation in its wake all along the Gulf Coast , resulting in a great need for many types of assistance for the local residents.

Most stories focus on the horrendous destruction of New Orleans and surrounding area, and the damage to other areas has often taken a back seat in national coverage. Camp Sister Spirit, located in Ovett , Miss. , has stepped up to assist local residents as they deal with the aftermath of Katrina in their area.

In a setting besieged by violence and national controversy only 12 years ago, Brenda and Wanda Hanson, the Camp’s owners, point to their daughter, Andie Gibbs, as the heroine of this tale.

“Andie Gibbs is a modern-day Robin Hood, and her intrepid tale is sure to go down in the history of personal heroism of those who did whatever they could—whatever they had to—not just to survive against the odds in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, but to help others, as well,” boasts Brenda. Rightfully proudly, she also points out that whatever animosity the people from the surrounding area may have had toward Camp Sister Spirit has disappeared to be replaced with their gratitude for help in the ongoing emergency that is now life in Ovett.

At one point in the early days of the crisis, Gibbs had run out of food for the evacuees staying on the land. Desperate for help, she actually commandeered a Red Cross truck that came through Ovett on its way to another destination. She blocked its path with her car to plead with the driver for food for the hungry people who had sought shelter at Camp Sister Spirit.

“I literally hijacked the Red Cross truck,” Gibbs said in a “Newsweek” interview. “People are poor; they didn’t have anything before the storm. I was so desperate for my community.”

Gibbs’ concept of community has grown as she and her partner, Terri, have worked to feed, clothe, and house the evacuees.

In addition to assisting people in Ovett, these determined women sorted and distributed more than $2 million dollars worth of privately donated goods to be sent to Hattiesburg , Miss. , and Slidell , Louisiana . Slidell , like New Orleans , experienced both the ravages of the hurricane, but also a damaging flood that left the little town completely underwater for three days.

Hearing of the need for volunteers, Linda Capps of Knoxville decided to put her beliefs into action. She headed down to Mississippi to spend eight October days assisting in the relief effort at the Camp.

“You should have seen this amazing effort. There were lesbians everywhere. They sorted food and other goods, offloaded trucks, drove the trucks for delivery, The donations came from lesbians all over the map from places as far away as Canada , Georgia , North Carolina , Alabama , Michigan , and many other places. These donations were all from lesbians,” Capps proudly remembers.

“At any given time there were from 30 to 40 volunteers, all working together to meet the needs of the people who literally had nothing,” says Capps.

Assistance was also sent to the Huama Indians whose tribal income depended on fishing, an occupation wiped out by this devastating storm.

The most poignant moment came when townspeople found a sign attached to the Ovett Volunteer Fire Department. It simply read, “Out of food, supplies, and resources. For help, go to Camp Sister Spirit.”

In a town where less than ten years ago, federal mediators and intervention by the United States Attorney General Janet Reno were required to quell the threat of violence against Camp Sister Spirit after local reactionaries filed a lawsuit citing fears that the Camp might become “a hub of homosexual activity,” this simple message speaks volumes. It is cause for hope.

Please send donations to Camp Sister Spirit, P.O. Box 12, Ovett, Miss. 39464 or 444 East Side Drive, Ovett , Miss. 39464 . You may contact them by phone at (985) 497-3456 or by email at sisterspir@aol.com. Camp Sister Spirit is a 501(c) 3 organization. Contributions are tax deductible.