Last week, I posted photos and some info from Keith, an Ann Arborite who spent 18 days recently in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast region. Keith just sent me a more detailed account of his trip, as well as how we all can help. Here is his account in its entirety:
Recently I was in the Gulf Coast trying to help the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As some of you know Iím currently unemployed and didnít have a good reason not to go down and do what I could. I spent 18 days working with a couple of different grassroots organizations (Veterans For Peace and Saving Our Selves (S.O.S.)). As tough as it was to make the decision to make the trip, it is even more difficult to return to the comforts of home knowing there are so many lives still devastated (and will be for years). Some of these people literally sit outside their destroyed homes all day and wait for help from FEMA or the Red Cross (this was over a month after Katrina). They do not have family (as many of us are fortunate to have) to stay with in an unaffected area. Most of their family also lives in the area as well. These people worked for local companies or a family owned business and no longer are employed. What is worse is they have no possibility of finding gainful employment as all local commerce was destroyed. Many of these people were poor and already struggling before the hurricane hit. However, there were many middle class citizens affected as well. The families that made a decent living but lived paycheck to paycheck, they too no longer have any way to not just make a living, but to feed their children. This is the middle class that has viable skills and has put them to use never needing a hand out from the government or anyone else, for that matter.
Now they have nothing. Time to start over. Time to start over in an area (assuming they make the decision to move) they are unfamiliar with and donít have the friends and family that normally surround them. Local employers may be sympathetic to their plight but have no knowledge of them as a person (as their now defunct community once did) and with the economy the way it is, may not be hiring to begin with. This hurricane didnít just affect those working at a fast food joint or those that have been propped up by the welfare system. This hurricane turned peopleís lives, people just like you and me, upside down and theyíre not going to be flipped right side up
Not sure why Iím writing this email. Maybe to get some of these issues off my chest or to make sure everyone knows that the hurricanes may have come and gone and the mass media has now focused on the more sexy news of the day, but the victims still really need our help. I know every one of us has worked hard to be where we are today, I really do. I simply ask if you havenít given to the hurricane relief effort yet (and even if you have) please do so immediately. If you were going out for dinner and drinks in the next couple of weeksÖ donít. Stay home, make a grilled cheese and buy a six-pack. Take the $50 you would have dropped and give it to someone who needs it. Believe me I understand that is why we all go to work, so we can go out for dinner and drinks, take a vacation, enjoy life. If we could all skip one night out it would make a difference.
Interesting anecdote: Hollie, a 28 year old volunteer, who has been around the world (Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, etc.) caring for those less fortunate, visited a Vietnamese community in Biloxi, MS (the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed nearly through Biloxi and it was the most devastated area I witnessed, literally neighborhoods swept away). Her intent was to scout the area seeking places of worship and other areas in which the locals congregated seeking relief. Upon her search she would stop and talk with community members, listening to their accounts of how they survived the hurricane and what their future plans were. Before she left, she asked if there were any supplies they needed that she could bring back for them the following day. They were surprised and skeptical, but gave her their grocery list (bleach, mops, cleaning supplies and rice). The next day Hollie pulled up to unload the supplies they requested. Most of them stood in shock. The Red Cross had visited their community a couple of different times in the past few weeks doing exactly what Hollie had done the previous day and hadnít been heard from again. They explained this to Hollie and went on to tell her after their meeting the previous day they never once discussed her return because if the Red Cross wasnít coming back surely the girl in a mini-van from California wouldnít return either, let alone with all of the supplies they had asked for. Hollie explained to me, pulling up in that mini-van, looking at all of those bewildered faces was her most gratifying experience of the trip.
Shortly to follow this email Iíll send another with a web address of photos of the trip. Some are of destruction and relief work, others are of volunteers (many of which are now friends) that came from all over the country to help. In many of the photos we were all smiles, having a drink or just goofing around. Some of the work was exhausting, both mentally and physically, and the pictures were taken while trying to unwind.
Iíd invite anyone who is interested in donating or learning more to email me or give me a call. Below is the address for donations (both money and supplies). If you do not feel comfortable giving to an organization thatís not nationally recognized, I understand, but do understand this is the most effective way to give directly to those who need it and not to contribute to the bureaucracy of other major relief organizations. If there is a strong interest in donating I would also entertain the idea of again driving down to the Gulf Coast to purchase needed supplies and distributing them to those who need it. In doing so I would verify (receipts and pictures) that your hard earned money was going directly to those who needed it immediately directly from point A to B (instead of getting caught up in red tape and making sure government employees get their cutÖ point A to B to C to D to E to you get the idea).
Thanks for listening, feel free to forward and take care of yourselves.
Keith (kgroya AT hotmail.com)
Saving Our Selves (S.O.S)
Mobile Baptist Sunlight District Auditorium
809 Seminary St.
Pritchard, AL 36610