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Virginia Episcopalians present fleet of trucks to Mississippi diocese
Bishop will deploy vehicles for ongoing hurricane relief, rebuilding

By Lauren Auttonberry
[Episcopal News Service]  During a touching and jubilant press conference on May 8, a group of drivers from the Diocese of Virginia and St. Mark's Church in Richmond arrived at Camp Coast Care in Long Beach, Mississippi, with eight full-sized work trucks as well as a 15-passenger van.

Led by the Rev. Charles D. "Buck" Aiken Jr., associate rector of St. Mark's, in Richmond, Virginia, the keys to the fleet of trucks, purchased from the Fastenal Corporation of Winona, Minnesota, were presented to Bishop Duncan M. Gray III of Mississippi.

"We have felt the support of so many throughout the church during these last nine months," Gray said. "The whole church has so generously held us in prayer even as they have provided their gifts of time, talent and treasure.

"Today, the Diocese of Virginia, through the gift of this incredible fleet of trucks, will not only help us bear our present burdens, but give us the increased capacity to be bearers of hope and healing."

"We're so grateful to the Diocese of Virginia and the people of St. Mark's, Richmond, who heard our call for heavy vehicles to carry supplies and volunteers to work sites," said the Rev. Carol Stewart, executive director of Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi (LESM), which has administered and organized Episcopal relief and recovery work on the Mississippi coast. "We've had some vehicles donated that we had to hold together with duct tape so it's wonderful to have late model vehicles in good working order."

Gray was on hand as master of ceremonies, ably assisted by Van Bankston, site manager for Camp Coast Care site manager, Stewart and other staff members of Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi.

"We have needed the trucks for a long time," said Bankston. "We need volunteer and case manager transportation; we also need vehicles designed for pulling heavy equipment and loads of supplies."

This was not Aiken's first visit to the ravaged area; on September 19, 2005, Aiken and Steve Clark arrived in the Katrina ravaged area with a load of office furniture for the Very Rev. Bo Roberts. Aiken and Clark encountered the Presiding Bishop's tour of the Mississippi Coast at the "slab" of Roberts' church, St. Mark's, in Gulfport.

"People like Buck Aiken and his team inspire those of us who work daily on the recovery of the Mississippi coast," said Carol Penick, development director for LESM. "They not only raised the money for eight trucks and a van, but they also gave up a week of their precious time to drive down from Virginia and work with other volunteers in the rebuilding of damaged lives."

In addition to Gray, the LESM and Camp Coast Care staffs, Bishop William Persell of Chicago, and Robert Radtke, president of Episcopal Relief and Development, were present to witness the generosity of the people in the Diocese of Virginia.