John Daugherty understands this. He coordinates Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana's relief efforts. The group has rebuilt dozens of houses. "It seems like a drop in the bucket, but with these 50 homes, we've made a significant difference," he says.
Not all faith-based efforts were small in scope. Catholic Charities USA took in $16 million and helped 200,000 people. The United Methodist Committee on Relief collected $62 million last year alone. But these big charities worked through local coordinators and groups to ensure their money funded real progress.
Again, compare that with the federal approach. Remember the FEMA trailers? There are 9,855 mobile homes parked near an airport in Hope, Ark. The federal government spent more than $30,000 per trailer, and they've sat empty for a year while Katrina evacuees spread out around the country. Adding insult to injury, Washington has since spent an additional $4.3 million just to keep them from sinking into the ground.
"American taxpayers are spending $250,000 per month to maintain these empty mobile homes, and it is time we do what is right and put them to use," Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said recently. Maybe he doesn't realize FEMA is "moving in government speed."
As is often the case, Washington's talking heads have missed the point. The lesson of Katrina isn't that we need more federal involvement in our lives. It's that faith and civil society works -- and big, centralized government programs don't.