One Last Note From Alex's Mom From Louisiana
This is the last email my friend, who is volunteering to help Hurricane Katrina victims, is able to send since she's expecting the next place to not have computer access:
Don't panic. I'm about to leave "LA" the state - Louisiana, not Los Angeles. I haven't changed that much! I'm getting ready to head out to Mississippi, and as much as I'm anxious to get to the animal rescue camp, it's very hard to leave here.
We had a group from Huntsville, Alabama leave early this morning - around 15 of them, all related - cousins, aunts/uncles, sister-in laws, etc. - and another group headed off to the local Church of Christ, so the camp is pretty empty - and the computers were free! So, I decided to check in one last time before I go.
Every night at the after dinner meeting, there's a little ceremony for those leaving the next day. When they first opened up the camp here and had yet to get the kitchen up and running, all there was to eat were MREs - the military ready-to-eat meals. Thankfully, they were a thing of the past before I arrived, but they have cases left, so everyone gets an MRE as a going away gift. So I'll be bringing mine home - I guess I can put it in the earthquake kit :-) Then you make a little speech about what being here has meant to you. I told them that prior to this, my idea of camping was a hotel with no room service - then some mushy (but absolutely true) stuff about how I have gotten so much more than I've given - and then finished by staying that, in the words of my state's esteemed governor, I'll be back.
Then about 18 of the volunteers, my camper-mates and those from the crews I worked on, took me out to Chilis for drinks (there's just no drinking allowed in the camp) and a celebratory send off. In the words of Hurricane Jack: We work hard, we play hard - and when we think... we sleep."
Some things I've forgotten to tell you: You can check out the camp at "hilltoprescue.org" The organization I was with here is Hilltop Rescue and Relief.
There is a really nice couple here, who have a fairly large house on six acres of property, and they have turned it over to Hilltop for the camp. There is a big guesthouse (about 2,000 square feet) that has become the office/command center and the kitchen. They were far enough from the lake to not have been hit by the wave, and the guesthouse had more flooding than the main house just from the torrents of rain, so it has cement floors (the carpet was ripped up) and is fairly see-through, as a lot of the drywall has been removed, but it's in pretty good shape.
It is amazing, in the two months since the camp was established, how much they have done here. They have built a building with 4 toilets (the real, flushing kind, not port-o-potties) on one side, and 4 showers on the other. It's not much to look at, the inside walls aren't sheet rocked or finished or anything, but they work, and that's all that matters. The attached garage has been extended out to form the mess/meeting area. A free standing garage has been turned into what I call "Costco" - the warehouse for all of the donated food and supplies. Enough RVs and campers have been donated or loaned to them that everyone is out of tents - a goal they had for the winter - and through a complicated maze of extension cords, the campers have power! And there's a big tent (kind of like they put up for parties), with a raised plywood floor that has 8 washers and 8 dryers. There is even wireless internet throughout the camp. Who knew? I never even thought to bring my laptop. But now you'll know to bring yours when you come back with me :-)
While they love (and need, and never have enough of) people like me, who can do all the "grunt" work - and when they get calls from someone saying, I'm a doctor, or I'm a lawyer, or another professional, and asking if they can help, they're asked "How are you with a hammer/shovel/chainsaw/whatever." But anyone calling who's a plumber/electrician/carpenter/mechanic/truck driver/etc. - boy, do they get excited. Those guys are the kings of the camp! And don't worry - if mucking houses and hauling logs and wielding chainsaws isn't your thing, there are plenty of things to do in the camp - cooking, laundry, office work.
Someone asked about the food - it's good. Home cookin'. There are always 3 or 4 ladies who volunteer to cook, and we have 3 good meals a day. Plenty of fresh fruit and veggies, plus good meals.
Here's a thumbnail sketch of life here: The wake up bell rings at 7 - but several volunteers have been up long before that. Hurricane Jack's wife has taken it upon herself to get up at 6 every morning and clean the toilets and showers. By 7, two huge coffee pots are ready, and breakfast is being served. People straggle in as they get up and dressed. We all brush our teeth at the communal sink in the laundry tent. Then at 8, we have the morning meeting, everyone gets their crew assignments, and off we go. Back for lunch around 12:30, then back to the job sites until dark (thank God for daylight savings time!), then back to the camp for showers, dinner, the evening meeting, and pretty much off to bed, as everyone is so exhausted - except for the occasional night out like last night.
As I sit here, a group of 5 have just arrived from Toledo, Ohio - and it's their second time. I think more than half of the people here are here for at least their second time, and it is now so easy to understand why.
Well, it's time to hit the road. As I said, this is really hard. I'm off to make the rounds -- saying good-bye is going to be tough.
Signing off from Slidell.