The license plates in the hotel parking lots along Interstate 10 here were all starting to look the same: Louisiana, Mississippi, Louisiana, Mississippi, row after row after row. On their way to work Tuesday, several on the staff of the Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in west Houston took notice.

They got to work fast, printing fliers and slipping them under the car windshields: Come for a free lunch Wednesday. The fliers had maps to the church. By noon Wednesday, 300 refugees from the hurricane were downing spaghetti with tomato sauce, salad and bread, their first home-cooked meal in days.

"So many people were already right in our neighborhood," said Cynthia Harvey, associate pastor of the west Houston church. "So we said, 'Let's focus on food and take it from there.' "

For all the official preparations going on here to accommodate the Katrina-spawned evacuees, it's the spontaneous, individual efforts that are counting just as much.

The spaghetti lunch was just the beginning. Like churches and synagogues all over Houston, the congregation of Memorial Drive United Methodist has donated diapers and baby food, toothpaste and crayons for kids. The local Starbucks sent over pastries. One woman baked homemade chocolate chip cookies. Another organized a mini-assembly line of peanut butter and jelly sandwich makers.

The church plans to serve lunch again Thursday and Friday, and then decide whether to continue into the weekend.

"These people have no idea when they'll return home," Harvey said.

-- Lisa Rein