"Need a home?" the flier asked.
The Rev. William Finch, pastor of St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Rockville, arrived here Tuesday ready to sell Montgomery County as a haven for 50 hurricane evacuees living in the Astrodome.
He's printed 100 fliers outlining the package that he and his parishioners have assembled for those who get on his bus for Maryland: $500 in cash, unlimited use of cell phones, access to schools, help finding jobs. And they will live in some of the nicest homes in Rockville and Potomac for as long as it takes to reestablish themselves.
An ambitious and generous plan. But getting his congregation's 3,300 families, many of them well-to-do, to donate more than $100,000 was the easy part. As he prepared to board a flight for Houston on Tuesday, he realized that his busload of good intentions could go for naught.
"I'm scared to death," the 51-year-old District native said.
Since deciding to go after watching television coverage of Katrina's catastrophic aftermath last week, Finch has contacted the Red Cross and Texas officials for help identifying evacuees. He said he has not been able to reach anyone who can help.
Others who want to assist have been rebuffed. When the D.C. government sent 10 buses to New Orleans to pick up storm victims Friday, people reportedly refused to leave.
With no contacts, Finch's game plan is pretty simple. He plans to go to the Astrodome on Wednesday, walk around and ask people if they want to live in Maryland.
What if nobody wants to come? What if he can't even get into the Astrodome?
If that happens, Finch said, he will donate the money to Catholic Charities, which has taken an active role in helping the hurricane victims.
"At least we tried," he said. "Our people wanted to do something other than write checks."
Despite the uncertainty, Finch persuaded others to travel here with him. On Monday, he called Jeffrey Dunckel, a Bethesda parishioner who works for the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation. Dunckel called his supervisor and requested the week off, then got a seat on Finch's plane.
"He gave a very inspired call to action," Dunckel said.
Luisa Duarte, the Hispanic coordinator at St. Raphael's, didn't need much convincing. She left Cuba 43 years ago without her parents. "I know what it's like not knowing what's going to happen next," she said.
Since announcing his plan to parishioners during Mass over Labor Day weekend, help has emerged from all directions.
Robert Ivany, president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, agreed to house Finch and his crew for a couple of nights. Marriott Corp., which has offices in Bethesda and employs several of his parishioners, donated 30 free hotel rooms at a Fairfield Inn in Knoxville, Tenn., where they plan to spend Thursday night during their 22-hour drive back.
Once they get back to Maryland, Finch's staff will match evacuees to the 34 parishioners who have offered their homes. Pediatricians, dentists and counselors will offer their services.
Once the evacuees have settled into their new homes, Finch said, he will help them find jobs. Dunckel said Montgomery County will train any evacuees over age 21 as Ride On bus drivers. There are currently 25 vacancies, he said.
Regular potluck dinners will keep the evacuees together, Finch said. Parishioners are willing to house them, possibly for a year or longer.
"This is a long-term project," he said. "We will carefully watch over them and guard them."