The exodus from New Orleans continues, but for those lucky enough to have escaped, another journey to find shelter has begun.

For days, the focus has been on mega-shelters such as Houston's Astrodome and LSU's Pete Maravich Center. But in towns like this one along the Mississippi River, a patchwork of shelters has popped up in civic centers, gyms and churches.

A dozen men and women -- some with only the clothes they're wearing -- have settled, for now, at St. Matthews Full Gospel Baptist Church, 64 miles upriver from New Orleans.

Theirs are not the angry, frustrated voices of people waiting to be rescued. Here, people have begun to see the future and can't fathom that it might be their reality.

"Ain't nobody got no money," said Johnnie Morris, who has worked on the same fishing boat for 22 years, and fears it has been destroyed. "Right now I'm out of a job. It's a scary thing. If they put us out of here, where do we turn?"

The digs are not fancy. Everyone sleeps on a church pew. The showers for men are next door at a minister's house, while women are shuttled down the street. Dinner arrives on foam plates from a church around the corner. The first breakfast consisted of cold sandwiches because Popeye's hadn't yet opened. Neighbors are bringing donations -- one arrived for $25 -- and food from their own pantries.

"A lot of us are giving out of our houses," said Gwendolyn Miles, a volunteer at St. Matthews. "You can't get in contact with FEMA. . . . But these people's lives have been disrupted. They need some normalcy. We're trying to give them that."

Some of the displaced are desperate to find loved ones who are missing or they got separated from. Many are sick with diabetes and high blood pressure. They have gone from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and back down to Donaldsonville.

Here, at least, there is electricity, hot showers and air conditioning.

"This is all I got," said Patrick Dinet, stretching his arms wide and pointing to a red T-shirt, blue jeans and a pair of slippers. He evacuated before the storm hit last Monday and has heard accounts of significant deaths at home in Belle Chase, and that the town and neighboring areas may be submerged. "We lost everything."

But that's not his biggest worry. He hasn't seen his wife, children or grandchildren since last Saturday. He heard they were in Baton Rouge.

"Can you help me find them," he asked.

The shelter was not planned. Melvina Brooks, the wife of St. Matthews pastor Harold Brooks, heard on the radio that a family needed help. The Brookses have taken in foster kids, some for two weeks, others who stayed for decades. So she called the station and said: "We'll take them."

Daughters, sons and church members were sent to buy food and cups and plates. Blankets were donated. Bags of clothes -- some with tags still on them -- arrived. One neighbor has agreed to wash sheets and towels. Another is doing the blankets. No one knows how they will sustain the shelter. The first day cost $300, not counting in-kind donations.

Church members take turn sleeping at the church, cleaning up after meals and taking the town's new residents to state offices to apply for public assistance.

One woman was nearly hysterical Saturday morning when friends went to wash clothes. "I want to go home," she yelled. "I can't stay here forever."

Volunteers have few words to comfort. "Reality really hasn't begun to sink in for these people," said Miles, the church volunteer. "They're still in a state of shock."

The town has already changed. There are people sleeping on the street. Brooks wonders if the federal government fully understands.

While preparing dinner Friday, a friend from a neighboring shelter called to say that they'd been shut down because authorities said it was unsanitary. The shelter does not have a kitchen and food was being brought in from outside.

"Are they losing their minds?" Brooks asked about government officials. "Those people were living outside with no place to sleep. What could be more unsanitary than walking in water that has feces and snakes in it?"

The church is getting used to being a shelter. At breakfast she told her charges to make room: more people are on the way.

Donna Lytell Williamson of New Orleans, who is staying at a Donaldsonville, La., church, was told her home was destroyed. Volunteers Eloise Daniel and Karion Bradon look through donated clothes at the church.