A few days following the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, members of New Mount Pilgrim Church and the Greater St. John Bible Church embarked on a trip to the devastated Gulf Coast.

Among those arriving at Kayne, Louisiana’s Town Hall were New Mount’s Pastor Marshall Hatch and Greater St. John’s Senior Pastor Ira Acree. What they saw while there has stayed with them since late August when Katrina first struck Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Shortly after returning, Hatch, Acree and other church leaders formed the African-American Christian Hurricane Relief Network. This past Sunday, the network of more than a dozen West Side churches, and in conjunction with outreach organization New Vision hosted a fundraiser for several Gulf Coast churches. The proceeds from Sunday’s fundraiser, which included clothing giveaways and a gospel concert, will be donated to seven Gulf Coast churches.

Early on in the relief effort, West Side churches looked to make their own contributions. With the federal government assisting to rebuild homes and helping evacuees find jobs, the churches sought to promote the reconstruction of churches in the Gulf Coast.

“The church gives people strength and is very important in those effected communities,” said Hatch. “The reconstruction of the churches is a high priority to us.”

Hatch, Acree and other church members arrived in Louisiana shortly after Katrina struck. When they arrived at Kayne’s Town Hall, residents were already sleeping on a few cots inside, recalled Hatch.

“It was about 1,500 people there,” he said. “We had four vans of goods and donations for those at the hall. We also prayed with the victims. It was an incredible sight; seeing multi-generational families vying for room on cots and having to eat what appeared to be some type of chili. The level of neglect that these people endured was unbelievable.”

One of the most heartbreaking moments for Hatch in Louisiana was meeting one 14-year-old boy whose parents perished in the flood. He now had to look after his younger sisters and grandparents.

Many evacuees made their way to Chicago and other northern cities. Many Gulf Coast evacuees have family in Chicago and on the West Side. Organizations and churches have collected goods and cash donations in the last two months. But Sunday’s fundraiser and gospel concert at Hatch’s New Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church, located at 4301 W. Washington, was among the few events of its kind held on the West Side.

Three weeks of planning by the network and its co-sponsors culminated on Sunday.

The three-hour concert was emceed by Gospel Radio 1390 DJ Mike Robinson.

Among the artists who performed was Chicago gospel artist Deandre Patterson. The artist took time to pay homage to the Katrina victims and assured that “in God’s hands, great things will be in store for them.”

Patterson also encouraged them to be called “Hurricane Survivors” instead of “Hurricane Victims.”

“In God’s hands, no one is a victim,” he told the crowd of more than 200. Gospel group Commitment to Christ and New Being, also performed. A number of artists agreed to perform despite having various other commitments.

Rev. Acree added that he knows that there is still much work to be done in rebuilding the churches and homes in the area, but he hopes that the fundraiser will be the beginning of the process.

“We are donating the proceeds from the event to seven churches in the effected areas, particularly in Golfport, [Miss.],” he said. “We are donating to the reconstruction of Mt. Bethel, First Baptist and Forest Heights Baptist Church. We wanted to reach out to the churches especially because the church gives the people that hope they need to rebuild their lives.”