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Rescuers give, receive kindness for saving lives

JACKSON, Miss. -- When an Air Force reservist came here with his search-and-rescue unit, he helped spark generosity from 750 miles away for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Staff Sgt. Tony Pieske, an aerial gunner on an HH-60 helicopter, and other reservists from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., arrived at the Jackson International Airport Aug. 30. They were the first Air Force helicopter unit to begin rescue operations, starting less than 36 hours after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast and New Orleans area. By mid-September, they had rescued more than 1,000 people.

Members of the Pinelake Baptist Church in nearby Brandon, Miss., were already helping hundreds of storm victims but they wanted to do more.
When church volunteers learned about the reservists staying at a local hotel, they stepped forward and offered to do their laundry, knowing the reservists were working long hours with little free time.

“We drop our laundry at the front desk by 9 a.m. and pick it up the next day,” said Sergeant Pieske. “The (volunteers) even include a few snacks like chips and energy bars with it.”

Sergeant Pieske told his mother about his work and the generosity of the church volunteers. While attending an international annual meeting, Mrs. Claudia Pieske, president of St. Vincent DePaul and Catholic Charities in Chicago, talked to a few of its members about her son’s deployment and the generosity of Pinelake’s volunteers.

A hat was passed and thousands of dollars were collected and sent to the church.
“It’s incredible,” said Becky Pearce, coordinator of disaster relief at Pinelake.

“Thousands of people have come forward to volunteer. We get around 100 calls a day from people wanting to give.”

Pinelake recently set up a point of distribution in Bay St. Louis, Miss., where food, clothing and other items are made available to the hard-hit residents of Hancock County in Mississippi.

To show appreciation for the volunteers’ generosity, Col. Tim Tarchick, 920th RQW commander, visited the Pinelake Baptist Church and gave members of the church a certificate of appreciation and an American flag that was flown over the Gulf Coast and New Orleans area on Sept. 6.

“Thank you from all of us,” said Colonel Tarchick. “You have helped us focus on the mission.” (AFRC News Service)