A warm heart is one thing: On Sunday, the Rev. Ron Libby and his wife, Linda, gladly opened their home in Montgomery County to 11 victims of Hurricane Katrina -- all strangers to the couple -- who are settling in for what could be a long stay.
But with a warm heart come cold logistics.
"Well, first we needed beds," said Linda Libby, 53, as guests dodged one another in her kitchen yesterday, pouring coffee and eating breakfast. Before the Louisianans arrived -- two families totaling five adults, three teenagers and three small children -- the Libbys lived by themselves in their 4,500-square-foot home along a wooded lane in Damascus.
So on Saturday, Linda Libby went shopping for beds for the evacuees, who found the couple through a New Orleans area church.
"We bought . . . let me see, a king, a queen, four twins," she said, then paused to think. "Oh, and we added another queen, and then a set of bunk beds."
With mattresses and box springs, the bill came to nearly $3,000. And the couple spent about $2,000 for a couch, a chair and an ottoman, converting their finished but empty basement into a small apartment for one of the families. "I want this family to feel as though they have their own private space," Linda Libby said.
And groceries: When they don't eat out, she and her husband get by largely on salads and frozen meals. Sunday night, though, for maybe the first time since her now-grown son and daughter were little, she filled a shopping cart at a Giant with Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, instant oatmeal, kids' yogurts, loaves of bread, stacks of lunch meat and more. The total: $178.16.
It was enough for a few days. "Today I'm going to Costco," she said, for pot roasts, chicken, hamburger, canned goods and whatever else she decides she needs. "I'm going to have to get reorganized, because we were out of milk by this morning. I mean, I wasn't used to buying milk by the gallon anymore."
Across the country, families like the Libbys are making room for relatives and strangers left homeless by Katrina, brought together by social service agencies, community groups, churches, family ties and even the Internet. In many cases, the generosity entails more than simply opening the front door. It involves a radical, long-term change in lifestyle.
A hardship? Not at all, said the Libbys. "The joy of doing it far outweighs the inconvenience of it," said Ron Libby, 55, pastor of the 800-member Christian Life Center in Rockville. He smiled broadly. "We're making a difference in people's lives. And we do that for a living at our church. So we like it."
Their 11 guests, who may end up staying well into next year, lived in a New Orleans suburb before floodwater swallowed their homes. They are members of First Pentecostal Church of Chalmette, La. Their pastor is the Rev. Milton Martin, whose daughter is married to the Libbys' son, Sean, 34, also a minister. Eleven other members of Martin's church are living in Clarksburg with Sean Libby and his wife.
In Ron and Linda Libby's four-bedroom house, Jimmy Colna, 46, lives in the finished basement with his wife, Donna, also 46; their daughter, Anna, 21; and their grandsons, Kavin, 9, and Kain, 5. They set out Friday on the 1,100-mile trip in a Chevy Cavalier, arriving Sunday before dawn with just a few suitcases.
They evacuated their home before Katrina hit Aug. 29, figuring they would return from a shelter in a day or so, sweep up some broken glass and get on with life. Now almost everything they own, except for the clothes in their suitcases, is under water.
"It's a range of emotions," said Jimmy Colna, whose employer, a plumbing supply company, has shifted operations to Memphis. He said he doesn't know what will become of his job. "You think about your home and your property, and it makes you want to break down and cry.
And then you think about the kindness of these people, putting us up, and you think, 'Wow!' So I don't know what to do, smile or cry."
After Keith and Melba Lay, both 39, arrived Sunday, they moved into one of the Libbys' three extra bedrooms with their 3-year-old son, Avery.
Their son Gene, 18, has another of the rooms, and the third is shared by their daughter Kassidy, 16, and a niece, Kayla, 14. Like the Colnas, they sought temporary shelter before the storm with only overnight bags and lost nearly everything but the clothes they were carrying.
"We evacuate two or three times a year," said Melba Lay, a self-employed accountant. "But nothing really bad ever happened, and then we'd go back in. And I think when you do it so many times, you don't take it seriously anymore."
Keith Lay, employed by a commercial air conditioning company, flew back to Louisiana this week and might stay there to work, leaving his family with the Libbys. The teenagers have enrolled at Damascus High School and start classes tomorrow. Kain and Kavin Colna started kindergarten and fourth grade, respectively, yesterday.
"They're all destitute, at least for the short run," Ron Libby said. "So far we've paid for everything. But we're also raising funds through the church. We took the men out Monday to Kohl's, bought $1,000 worth of clothes for them. And today the ladies are going."
Linda Libby said, "I'm committed to having them here until the end of the school year." And she said there's room enough for "one more, maybe two." As for the cost, she waved a hand, dismissing the question. Eventually, donations and the evacuees themselves will help with the expenses, she added. "We'll let you know the total in 30 days when the Amex bill comes," she said, then burst out laughing.
More important now are questions of organization. The big household needs to settle on routines: Who likes what to eat? Who uses which bathrooms and when? Who gets this couch and who gets that one? Who watches what on TV?
"It's all been pretty loose so far, but that has to change," Linda Libby said. "We've just been rushing around and getting the necessities. We've all been just sort of group parenting. But we've got to get to the point of some kind of normal life."
Not yet, though. "I still need another refrigerator," she said. "Someone's got to loan us one, and a microwave, too. And I've got to get some rugs for downstairs. Because it's going to get cold down there. And I want some space heaters."
She leaned forward, speaking just above a whisper. "These people, I mean, they think it's cold right now. They have no idea."