Tag Archives: New Orleans

New Orleans trip: two last thoughts

(1) A comparison of New Orleans weather with Bay area weather: When we walked into the terminal at the New Orleans at about seven this morning, it was already hot and humid, 80 degrees with a dew point of 74; when we arrived at San Francisco airport, it was cool, almost chilly, and dry, at 63 degrees and a 29 mile per hour wind, with a dew point of 48. Given the weather we’re accustomed to, no wonder we had problems with the heat this past week.

(2) You know it’s a good trip when the final leg of your flight is delayed two hours, but you don’t really mind because you so enjoy the company of the people with whom you’re traveling.

And one last bonus thought: While in New Orleans, I read the New Orleans Times Picayune every day, and they have absolutely the best coverage on the BP oil spill, combining repressed righteous anger with good solid reporting. Read their oil spill coverage online at NOLA.com.

New Orleans: Final day

On the last day of our New Orleans service trip, we had a short work day. One crew went off to Green Light again; another crew to the Animal Rescue League of New Orleans; and Dave and I stayed at the Center for Ethical Living to finish up one last project.

The Green Light crew went off to St. Bernard Parish to install compact fluorescent bulbs. They discovered that in St. Bernard Parish, swampland comes right up to the road in many places. At the one house they managed to work at, the owner told them that that area was under ten feet of water after the hurricanes in 2005. Our crew saw bare foundations where houses were simply washed away by the flood.

This afternoon, most of our group went in to the French Quarter of New Orleans for a walking tour, though a few of us stayed behind to take a nap. Then all but three of us went to get dinner and hear live music in the French Quarter. We get up at five tomorrow morning, so I’m staying behind in the dorm so I can get enough sleep to make sure we get on the flight and make our connections; two other people who are particularly tired are also staying behind for a little sleep.

Later note: The three of us who stayed behind went for dinner at Pyramids Cafe, just five blocks from the Center for Ethical Living, for a good inexpensive dinner; then we went to The Camellia Grill to get a banana cream pie and an apple pie to bring back to share with everyone else.

Last post in the trip diary.

New Orleans, day six

We split into three crews today, on our sixth day of our New Orleans service trip. One crew went to Animal Rescue of New Orleans (ARNO), the local no-kill animal shelter. It turns out ARNO has only one paid staffer, and relies on volunteers for just about everything else. In a city where volunteers are already maxed out, it must be tough to be so reliant on volunteers. And we’ve all heard how animals had to be abandoned by those fleeing the city, so working at ARNO feels like we’re supporting the overall volunteer effort.

A recent issue of Christian Century magazine carried an article on short-term service trips. Many people who go on service trips feel strongly that they must see tangible results, regardless of what the community they’re serving happens to need:

Noel Becchetti of the Center for Student Missions tells of a local pastor in Mexico who tries to get visiting teams to help with his mission of outreach to men. Some teams, however, are dead set on building something: they want to see some (literally) concrete results. So the pastor has a wall that he has such teams work on. He has no idea what the wall will ever be or become, but building it keeps the visiting teams busy and out of his hair, and at the end of their time they can rejoice and be glad that they accomplished something tangible…. [“Misguided Missions: Ten Worst Practices,” by Mark W. Radecke, 18 May 2010 issue]

I think that many volunteers who go to New Orleans to help with the rebuilding effort think that they should literally be rebuilding, and they are disappointed if that’s not what they do. But in a stressed city like this, there’s so much to do that what’s most important is to ask the people who are in the place you’re serving what they need done — and then do it, cheerfully.

Our second crew went back to Green Light today to install compact fluorescent bulbs in people’s houses. I was on the third crew. We went back to help out the Growing Homes program, finishing up the planting that we had started yesterday. It took us all morning to finish, and when we got done Mrs. Washington fed us hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch (our vegans had to eat potato chips and wait to eat lunch). Several members of Mrs. Washington’s extended family, along with her two sons, sat down while we ate, and we had a good time talking.

After lunch, we came back to the Center for Ethical Living and did some repair work here. We also began putting mattress covers on the foam mattresses in the home-made bunk beds in our dorm rooms; we will complete that task tomorrow.

The Center staff did a final debriefing session with us before dinner. They asked us each to say a high point and a low point of the past week, and then say what we’re going to bring back home with us. What I said was this: my high point was the people, both the New Orleans residents like Mrs. Washington whom I got to meet, and the other relief workers whom I met here (Americorps volunteers, people who moved down here to help rebuild, etc.), and also the people in our group whom I got to know better; my low point was the day I didn’t drink enough water and got overheated; and what I’m going to bring back with me is ideas of what we can do where we live, considering how bad the finances of the state of California are, and how many state-funded services (schools, etc.) are being cut.

Tonight, everyone else is going to the French Quarter to eat begniets and see the sights. I’m going to head off early to bed; I’ll be getting up in the middle of the night to drive one of our people to the airport because she has to leave a day early.

Next post in the trip diary.

New Orleans, day five

We were assigned to two different jobs today, on our service trip to New Orleans. One crew went to work at Rev. Josie’s food pantry, bagging groceries for people in need to pick up. The second crew went to work for Growing Home; I was part of the second group.

Growing Home is a non-profit agency that helps people claim vacant houses next door to them. According to their Web site: “Buy the lot next door, beautify it, and we’ll deduct money off the purchase price. The Growing Home program of New Orleans would like to help. Through Growing Home you can receive up to a $10,000 discount off the cost of a qualifying Lot Next Door for landscaping improvements that you make to the property.”

We went to the house of a Mrs. Washington, who was improving the lot next to hers with the help of Growing Home. Abigail, a landscape architect who works with Growing Home, had designed some nice plantings, and we began digging out plots for the plantings. After we had been working for about two and a half hours, a thunderstorm moved in, and after waiting half an hour we decided to take our lunch break. It just poured buckets of rain, maybe three inches in an hour. When the rain finally stopped, all the areas we had dug out were filled with water.

We figured out a way to keep working, which meant getting incredibly dirty. (Some of our crew took pictures of us at the end of the work day, and I will try to post some of them here eventually so you can see just how dirty we were.) Abigail had to get a truck load of soil for us, then some drainage gravel, and by the time moving the dirt and gravel it was 5:30 and past time to knock off work. We promised her we’d go back tomorrow morning for a few hours to finish the last remaining plantings.

Unfortunately, Rev. Josie’s food pantry had so many volunteers that they only had three hours of work for our other crew. They came back here and basically had nothing to do, which was disheartening. We’re going to have a meeting tonight to see if we can figure out a way to become more effective.

Next post in the trip diary.

New Orleans, day four

Today we split into three crews on our service trip here in New Orleans. One crew, with eight people, went back to Blair Grocery, where they put in a border around a garden plot to keep out weeds. One crew, with four people, went to work with Green Light, installing free compact fluorescent bulbs in houses where the owners had requested them. The third crew, with four people, stayed here at the Center for Ethical Living to help out with some much-needed maintenance work here where we’re staying. I worked on this third crew.

The Center for Ethical Living is definitely understaffed, and basically all staff time goes towards supporting the volunteers who come to stay here. That means that the volunteers who stay here do most of the custodial work, so the first thing we did today was to give all three bathrooms a thorough scrubbing, scrub the floors, and so on. We moved a broken freezer down from the second floor to the curb for pick up, reorganized the linen storage, and did some other miscellaneous tasks the Center staff asked us to do. The four of us — Alexa, Sam, Jo, and I — worked our butts off. I was even sore at the end of the day.

Tonight after dinner, most of our crew went off to take the St. Charles Streetcar, which is apparently the oldest street railway in continuous operation in the United States; it began running in 1832, is now powered by electricity, but the cars were originally drawn by horses. They rode the line from its terminus at Claiborne and Carrollton to Camilla’s, a popular eating spot.

Next post in the trip diary.

New Orleans, day three

Day 3 of our service trip to New Orleans

Our work assignment today was at Our School at Blair Grocery in the Lower Ninth Ward. Ten years ago, Blair Grocery had been a grocery, but it went out of business a decade or so ago. In 2008, a school was established to serve young people from the Lower Ninth Ward who basically hadn’t gone to school since Hurricane Katrina. A big part of the curriculum of the school is urban farming, and they sell the produce and eggs they raise in the neighborhood. So the people running Blair Grocery are not only addressing education through youth empowerment, they’re also addressing food security in the Lower Ninth Ward, a part of New Orleans that still doesn’t have a supermarket.

We were assigned two tasks at the beginning of the day. Carol, Maya, Nina, and I went to work on their main compost windrow, which was ten feet high, twenty feet wide, and perhaps fifty feet long. It was spreading out too much so we put up a fence made of pallets to contain one of the long sides. Then we climbed up on top of the heap and began shoveling the pile down against the fence. Compost piles get pretty hot — this one was steaming — and the day was blazing hot, so we took it easy so we didn’t get too overheated.

Blair Grocery is working several empty lots in the Lower Ninth. If you pay taxes on a vacant lot for three years in New Orleans, you wind up owning the lot. Blair Grocery has found some empty lots that are unlikely to be claimed by the old owners, and has been building gardens on them. The soil is not very good, so they truck in composted manure to grow vegetables in. The other group used wheelbarrows to move composted manure from one lot, where there is an established garden, to a new lots they’re now working. When it got too hot to work on the big compost windrow, some of us went over to help with this project. After lunch, we worked on several different things: sifting compost, rebuilding a wood rack

It’s amazing how many empty lots and empty houses there are in the Lower Ninth. This used to be a neighborhood where the houses are close enough together that you could talk with your neighbors next door through an open window; now only one house in ten is occupied, and it seems like more than half the lots no longer have houses. On many blocks, there’s only one occupied house.

We felt good about what we did today. Working at Blair Grocery seemed like a good way to support the community in the Lower Ninth Ward, which was one of the hardest-hit parts of the city, and which has been one of the slowest to recover.

Next post in the trip diary.

New Orleans, day two

It’s late at night, so just a quick summary:

We attended worship this morning with First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans. We got to meet people from the two other groups that are here volunteering through the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal:– the youth group from the Columbus, Ohio, Unitarian Universalist church, and youth and adults from the Monterey Unitarian Universalist church.

In the afternoon, we received a general orientation, and then cultural sensitivity training, particularly around issues of race, and the peculiarities of New Orleans culture.

This evening, we finally got out work assignments. Work assignments will include Blair Grocery, Rev. Josie’s Food Pantry, Animal Rescue of New Orleans, Green Light, and Growing Home. More on our assignments later.

Next post in the trip diary.

In New Orleans

We arrived in New Orleans about three hours ago, rented our cars, and got to First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans where we’ll be staying. On the plane here, I wound up sitting next to two women from New Orleans. They told us about all the good cheap places to eat, talked about how angry they are with BP, and told me a little bit about how the continued cleanup is going.

Tomorrow, we will attend an orientation session with the groups from the UU churches in Monterey, Calif., and Columbus, Ohio. We will get our final work assignments then.

Next post in the trip diary.