The Salvation Army Volunteer Village has been one of the fixtures of the volunteer hurricane relief effort here in Biloxi since shortly after Hurricane Katrina. Over the past year, they have been gradually closing down and refocusing their operations as the numbers of volunteers have fallen off. Yesterday, after nearly four years, they served their last lunch for volunteers. For those of us who have been here during the hurricane recovery process, it feels like the end of an era.
For years, the offerings were the same: simple deli sandwiches, chips, and bottled water. Over the past year, the quality and variety improved greatly as the volunteers began coming in dozens rather than hundreds. But it’s not the free food that I’ll miss the most, although I will. It’s the energy and dedication of the volunteers who came to help out and were supported by the Salvation Army. That those volunteers are gone means that national attention has shifted elsewhere, but it also means that a large part of the immediate need has been met. So the occasion is bittersweet. My body may thank me for the reduced sodium intake. My wallet won’t. But more than that, I’ll know that we’ve entered a new phase here in Biloxi: one in which the torch is passed to the locals, and to those who have come here to live and serve.