DeKALB - Energetic and determined, a group of 29 Scouts and leaders from DeKalb's Troop 33 traveled 1,000 miles to offer assistance for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. The Scouts raised more than $8,000 during the past three months, collected tons of donated items and decided to invest the week before Christmas working hands-on to help others in Mississippi and Louisiana. On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States, quickly becoming the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. The eye of the storm passed over St. Louis Bay, ravaging the surrounding communities. Nearly 80 percent of Pass Christian, Miss., was destroyed as hurricane winds and a 35-foot storm surge crashed over the city. A population of 7,000 has been reduced to 1,000 determined souls left behind living in trailers and tents. Pass Christian, Miss., is where Troop 33 decided to base their Christmas mission. Upon arriving there, Scouts were immediately confronted with vast destruction almost beyond comprehension; houses torn to shreds, school buses ripped apart, boats washed up along roadways, churches destroyed, schools leveled - devastation and debris lay about them in every direction. Though it had been more than 110 days since the hurricane made landfall, the incredible devastation appeared as if it had happened only yesterday. The Scouts erected a tent city, camping at a location where a middle school had once stood. Temperatures sank to below freezing at night and warmed into the 50s during the day. They divided into three work crews of nine to 10 Scouts and leaders and focused their efforts toward five major service projects. Project 1 - Donating items Troop 33 brought with them more than 6,000 pounds of supplies and equipment tightly packed onto a truck donated by Algus Packaging Inc. of DeKalb. They divided the items between two Disaster Centers, God's Katrina Distribution Center in Pass Christian and the Lutheran Episcopal Disaster Center in Biloxi. Among the items donated were canned food, infant supplies, warm clothing, jackets, sweaters, blankets and quilts, thousands of Christmas toys including stuffed animals and younger child toys, plus gifts for teens such as electronics, games, sports equipment and about a dozen bicycles. More than 600 Bibles also were collected. Project 2 - Merry Christmassissippi party While military personnel were deployed to help others during the hurricane, many of their own homes were destroyed. An old-fashioned Christmas party was held for homeless military families assembled from Keesler Air Force Base, Gulfport CB Base and Pascagoula Naval Station. The Salvation Army also brought foster children whose caregivers had evacuated the state, leaving them behind. The party was held in an aircraft hangar at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi with a Hurricane Hunter aircraft parked alongside. Troop 33 partnered with Boy Scout Troop 650 of Alta Loma, Calif., for this project. The California Scouts ran the program and presented gifts to the children, while Troop 33 provided a holiday banquet meal for 300 people, which included about 100 carry-out meals for military personnel stationed on duty that night. Treasure Bay Hotel in Biloxi generously provided access to its kitchen for preparing major portions of the meal. The event brightened the holiday season for people who had lost so very much and provided Christmas gifts to excited children. Project 3 - Feeding volunteers The central feeding tent in Pass Christian is called God's Katrina Kitchen, serving 600 to 800 volunteers at each meal. Troop 33 Scouts and leaders left their cold, dark campsite each morning at 4:45 a.m. to start cooking at 5 a.m. in a makeshift kitchen. They helped prepare more than 5,000 meals during a three-day period. They also scrubbed pots and pans, worked in the serving line and did other chores as needed. In addition, they also donated more than 500 homemade cookies for a volunteer Christmas party, baked by moms before the trip. Project 4 - Animal Rescue Center When New Orleans was evacuated, people were forced to leave their pets behind. A group called ARNO (Animal Rescue New Orleans) has been rescuing abandoned pets. Because ARNO has outgrown its original location, Scouts and leaders from Troop 33 helped ARNO establish a spacious new animal rescue center on the outskirts of New Orleans. For three days, Scouts cleaned, sanitized and erected cat and dog enclosures, an exercise yard and converted an outbuilding into a pet food center stocked with a semi-trailer load of cat and dog food. With the help of the Scouts, a clean modern facility now awaits recently rescued animals. Project 5 - Monetary donations Through fund-raisers and presentations, Troop 33 was able to raise thousands of dollars to benefit the American Red Cross Katrina Relief Fund, God's Katrina Kitchen, purchase food for the holiday banquet, contribute money for the city of Pass Christian and help Pass Christian's Boy Scout Troop 316 with much-needed funding. Troop 33's Christmas Mission required tremendous effort from the Scouts. They rose to the occasion, working together as a team. It was often very hard work, but they worked cheerfully without complaint. On their honor, they did their best. The Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” the slogan “Do a Good Turn Daily” and words from the Oath include, “to help other people at all times.” The Scouts lived true to those words. They saw the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster up close and witnessed the suffering and destruction it caused. They met hundreds of people - victims who'd lost everything but their human dignity, filled with courage and resolve; and tireless, determined volunteers whose spirit of selflessness and generosity truly was inspiring. Their days were filled with these incredible experiences, providing opportunity for reflection on some very important life lessons. Last month, a group of DeKalb Scouts traveled down to Mississippi to help Hurricane Katrina victims. They went to sleep one night as Scouts and awoke the next morning as heroes. They gave up part of their Christmas vacation, valuable time measured in days, for something they will keep in remembrance for a lifetime. Troop 33 is sponsored by First Lutheran Church. A photo album of the Troop's Christmas Mission experiences can be viewed through their Web site at troop33dekalb.org.