Your Help Is Still Needed... Katrina -- 1 Year Later
This note was written by my wonderful friend, Paula, who once again has volunteered to help people overwhelmed by Hurricane Katrina. Please read her note.
I am about to finish up my third stint in New Orleans as a hurricane relief volunteer. It continues to be the best worst thing I have ever done.
Worst when I'm tearing out drywall and insulation in a house we're gutting, and sweating so much that the mask over my nose and mouth is filling up with water so frequently that I feel like I'm going to drown...
Best when, as that's happening, one of the most adorable 5-year-old boys I've ever seen comes up to me, his child's Home Depot tool kit hammer in his hand, and says: Excuse me, ma'am, can I help you? I have a tool.
Worst when I pull at an overturned, ruined recliner to get it out of another house and two rats run out - and I scream like a girl and scare the rest of the crew to death...
Best because, even though it's rats - it's life returning to the area, something I had not seen during my first two trips down here.
Worst when we find an 80-year-old man sobbing on his front lawn when he got the first look at what was left of his house after the storm...
Best when, at the end of the day, he cries again, but this time tears of gratitude and joy as he insists on hugging every one of us, even though we are covered in dirt and mud and muck and sweat, and says we have given him hope...
I could go on with countless more examples - probably the worst of the worst being this past Friday, when someone decided to try to push a refrigerator that had been sitting in a house without power for 368 days without duct taping it closed first, and... you guest it... it opened. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
The purpose of my email to you is twofold - first, to let you know - and ask you to spread the word - that it is not okay down here. In so many areas, it looks like the storm hit last week and not last year. So many people assume that because it's no longer the lead story on the news that everything is fixed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
And now, the parishes (counties to the rest of us) are starting to pass ordinances that homeowners must gut their houses, replace the doors and windows and mow and maintain their lawns. If they don't, the parishes will do it, put a lien on their properties for the cost of it, and take the house if they don't repay it. So many people, because they're still waiting for insurance settlements, or were uninsured, don't have the money to do this. They are exempt if they are on the list with a bonafide relief organization, so those list grow daily.
I have been working with Hilltop Rescue & Relief. They currently have over 900 houses still on their lists. What they don't have is enough volunteers, thus the second reason for my email.
Hilltop is a Church of Christ based relief organization - not my church - not even my denomination, but this is not about religion, it is about helping people. Check them out at hilltoprescue.org
They have been going non-stop since shortly after the storm but now, due to a lack of volunteers are scaling back. After this week, they are planning to work the week around Columbus Day weekend, a week to 10 days around Thanksgiving, and about 3 week over Christmas. I'm planning to come back between Christmas and New Year's. All you have to do is get yourselves here. They provide housing, meals, laundry facilities, electricity, indoor plumbing, hot showers - almost all the comforts of home.
I urge you all to consider making the trip down here. Come for a weekend, come for a week. If not with Hilltop, with another relief organization. Hilltop will even refer you to another organization.
If you are involved in any social, civic, fraternal, religious, professional or other organization, suggest this as a project. Talk about making airplane tickets to New Orleans the family Christmas presents this year - I guarantee you it will be remembered more than almost any other Christmas gift you have received or will ever receive.
It doesn't matter how much you've read or seen on TV. The scope of what happened down here is impossible to comprehend unless you see it with your own eyes. Every homeowner - Hilltop gives priority to those over 65 and/or handicapped - has told me how blessed they feel, but I'm telling you, I'm the one who has been blessed. I guarantee you that a trip down here will change your life forever. I have worked side-by-side with people from 8 to 80, from all walks of life, and from all over the country. This trip, I have worked with a wonderful and incredibly hard working family from Canada - although it is a little embarrassing that Canadians are showing up to help when our own citizens are not. I'm hoping that'[s because they don't know, so please help me spread the word.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like additional information. I would love to see you in the Big Easy... for the hardest work you'll ever love.