I know that is love
Ailene Preston, who has suffered from Type 2 diabetes since her early 20s, relocated from Picayune, Mississippi, to Meridian after Hurricane Katrina destroyed her small house on half an acre.
Now settled in a house built in partnership with Lauderdale County Habitat for Humanity, Preston is legally blind but still cooks monumental meals of spicy Cajun food for volunteers who come to build houses with other people in need.
“I can’t build houses,” she said. “But I can cook for people. And when I see their faces, when they’re happy, I know that is love.”
Preston, divorced and the mother of two grown children, left Picayune with a small suitcase, stuffed with all her medications, paper goods, bottled water and enough clothes for two days.
“We thought we’d come back home,” she said quietly. “I didn’t know I wasn’t going to have a home to come back to.”
Preston spent most of her adult life cooking in school cafeterias, in Hattiesburg and Picayune, before disability made it impossible to work. Now she still does most of her cooking in bulk, whipping up red beans and rice or jambalaya for Habitat volunteer crews and occasionally for gatherings at her church.
“Sometimes I get so happy in the church kitchen, I’ll forget to put my choir robe on before stepping out there,” she said, laughing. “I’ll be out there with the choir, singing in my apron.”
Preston said she misses her hometown of Picayune, but she sees divine intervention at every step of her journey to Meridian—from the stranger who provided a ride out of Picayune, to the teams of young volunteers who spent their spring break helping to build her house.
“Those kids could have been at the beach,” she said, shaking her head. “Starting over is hard, but God brought me here, where people I didn’t know had their arms open for me. It’s like He had angels waiting for me.”