Maybe organized religion isn't so bad after all, at least according to the New York Times, which reports on the efforts of churches to feed, house, and care for people affected by Hurricane Katrina. Those churches filled a vital role, especially when the leadership of FEMA has been disorganized and slow to react.

This section of the story tells it all:

"You just walk in," said Ethel Wicker, 57, who fled the Ninth Ward in New Orleans ahead of the storm that flooded it, as she dug into a Styrofoam container of oriental chicken in the gym of Florida Boulevard Baptist Church. "They have clothing. They have drinks. They have candy. And they treat you very well."

In contrast, she said, she and her daughter, Dionne Murphy, 37, had to wait for hours to get food stamps. And so far, she has gotten nothing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "The churches are handing out meals," she said. "The federal government hasn't handed out any funds to my knowledge."

Indeed, after a day of confusion and complaints about how to obtain debit cards worth at least $2,000 for immediate living expenses, David G. Passey, a spokesman for FEMA, said the agency had decided to end the distribution of the cards after a one-day trial. But later, FEMA officials in Washington said that distribution of the cards would resume on Friday.

Mr. Passey said that victims must register for assistance, and that checks or funds transfers would usually take between 10 days and two weeks to reach them.

But many people said they could not wait that long, or did not have the patience to deal with all the bureaucratic mix-ups. And churches have stepped into the void in what observers say is probably the largest such outpouring in recent memory, with tens of thousands of displaced people stretched out across the country.

"Certainly, in my history of 41 years as a Salvation Army officer, this is the greatest mobilization of churches in general, but definitely the Christian churches, who in my mind have come to truly realize what Jesus said in Matthew in the 25th chapter: 'Inasmuch as you do unto the least of me, you do unto me,' " said Commissioner W. Todd Bassett, the Salvation Army's national commander.

Even Southern Baptist, who usually don't fare well in the pages of the Times, are painted in a positive light--so far the SCC has provided 5,000 volunteers and served more than a million meals.


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