Day 1: Sunday, March 26 2006
We arrived safely in New Orleans,
a little late, but safely. We arrived at Saint Paul LC, where we are staying,
and arrived just in time to see the end of church here. The people were very
friendly and welcoming, and very glad to see us. Pam, who is the site
coordinator here, showed us around the church. The sanctuary was damaged heavily
and had to be gutted, and while they are still building, church meets in the
basement. We enjoyed meeting several people from the church. Also staying here
is a group from Pittsburg, five of them. They are nice, and since they just got
in yesterday, I am sure we'll be comparing notes each day as energy permits.
After finding lunch, we headed to Saint John LC and met with the property
chairman there. The whole area around the church is basically vacant...houses
have to have power/phone/etc hooked back up. Street lights are either not
working or blinking red and yellow. Businesses are closed and probably not
reopening. And there is stuff (junk/trash/furniture) everywhere, piled up in
front of houses, on the streets, in yards, in empty lots. I am not sure how they
are going to get all this out of here. It is inconceivable at this point. Saint
John sustained quite a bit of damage. They have power in their gym, but the rest
of the property is not hooked up yet, and no phone. When they have services
(used to be 3 a weekend, now it's one), they run the whole church building on a
generator. The church itself is gorgeous, or used to be. But roof problems
plague them at this point, and insurance is not helping. They are ready to seek
legal aid at this point. Most of our work will be in the gym building and
school, laying tile, sheet rocking, moving cabinets and so forth. A lot of
lifting and moving stuff. The church is getting put back together, albeit very
slowly. But We feel as though this week we will be able to make some headway.
After seeing St. John, we ventured over to Lake Ponchetrain and saw some bad
areas there. We then saw parts of the ninth ward, not the really bad parts, but
bad enough. And we then went to Chalmette out on the toe of LA, a place that was
basically completely submerged. Pretty shocking stuff there too. Again, not a
lot of people around, tons of debris and junk everywhere, and just devastation
everywhere. It is an unbelievable site, and I know we haven't really seen the
worst of it yet.
After our mini tour, we went to dinner for some Creole cuisine and now everyone
is turning in after a long day. Leaving at 5 am was early and made for a long
day. Tomorrow we start work, and we'll need the rest.
Day 2: Monday, March 27 2006
Today was an early start. Not
that we had to be somewhere early, just that we didn't sleep well, the room got
really cold (I slept in a sweatshirt with the hood on for about 5 hours), and I
think we were a little anxious to get moving. But, an early rise enabled us to
have a good, hearty Southern breakfast with grits and smoked New Orleans
sausage, all cooked in butter, and floating in butter...it made diner food look
healthy! We then headed over to Saint John to start work. We cleaned up a
courtyard, pressure washed an outside wall in preparation for painting, moved
some cabinets in the kitchen that were put in incorrectly, and starting laying
tile in the kitchen. To break up the day, two nice ladies from the church came
and brought us Subway sandwiches for lunch. That gave us a nice break and a
chance to hear about their stories and how things are going.
One of the interesting things we found out is that many teachers were laid off
because of two things: school buildings were not ready to open up again, and
students were sparse. Thus, for the high school, kids in Orleans Parish (that's
Louisianan for county) are going to a school in Jefferson Parish. They do what
is called "transition school" where one group of kids goes to school for 7 or
how many ever periods they go, from 8:30-12, shortened periods with no lunch.
They then go home, the teachers get an hour for lunch, and then at 1, the next
group of students comes in until 4:30. Basically, their school system has fallen
apart both because of student loss, and also because Christian education is so
big here. And, they are finding that the quality of education is better in other
areas (TX, Baton Rouge, etc) that they are staying away.
Anyway, we worked today from about 8:30 until 5, and then we got cleaned up and
headed back to Saint Paul. We then ventured out to a small area restaurant and
bar and had more cajun type food to end the day. Upon our return back here we
got a chance to look at some pictures from the other group that is here of what
they have been doing. They have been gutting a house and they said that all
around the inside perimeter, you could see the ground outside. They also said
that if a couple of them pushed hard enough on one of the outside walls, the
place would probably fall over. But, this house is considered repairable. How? I
don't know, but they said most of the houses are this way. And, now that they
have gutted it, they have to let it air dry for many days before any rebuilding
can be done. And, the house has termites, so that has to be dealt with too.
I cannot express in words clearly what it is like here. We asked the lunch
ladies today what we could do in NY to help them, either politically or in
awareness. Their response was twofold: just let everyone know that things are
not okay, that it is not better here. Basically, there are parts of the city
that have not been touched since Katrina hit. And secondly, to encourage our
government to come up with an emergency plan and ACT ON IT! New Orleans has had
plans in theory down for over 40 years, but they never acted on any of it, and
so when the big one hit, they got caught with their hands tied, and everyone is
blaming everyone else and nothing is getting done. We made the comment today
that there is no way that New Yorkers would let our lives continue to be
disrupted as these people have. It is just unreal how people are living, or
better yet, existing.
Well, we pushed hard today, and we're all a little sore. Tonight, we should rest
well. Tomorrow, we may move a little slower, but hopefully not. We are pleased
with the progress today, and look forward to a nice week here. Hope all is well
Day 3: Tuesday, March 28 2006
Today we got up and got going
pretty early, considering how hard we worked yesterday. I think we all slept
better last night. After a quick coffee at a local dive we headed back to St
John and continued the work on the kitchen floor. There are three drains in
there that Art is working at cutting around so they can keep access to them. But
it's slower going than we thought. We were able to put two coats of paint up on
the outside gym wall, even with lingering clouds all day. And we started sheet
rocking the soon-to-be church/school office. And, we continued with the
courtyard cleanup, pressure washing the concrete to make it cleaner.
We again had a great lunch provided for us...this time a nice lasagna, bread,
and fruit salad. We didn't have much other interaction with people from the
church today, but, we got a lot done because of it. We found out today that we
are actually here on a bad week. Many of the people who are around all the time
are gone this week, and a lot of the people who usually can help if we need
things, started new jobs or are out of town on business. But, we are
self-starters so it's fine.
Today I also got a call from one of my seminary classmates, Pastor Limakatso
Nare who is here in NO. He met us after working and went to dinner with us and
had a lot of stories to share about his experience and others in the area.
Unfortunately, he counted four churches he knew of that were planning on closing
their doors for good because of no funds or people, or both. And he said one of
the biggest problems for the city is that they are still deciding what the new
building codes are going to be. Therefore, if you are going to rebuild your home
here, and if you do it under the old codes, when they are set, if they are
different, you may have to do major renovations again to get your home up to
code. As a result, people are doing nothing, waiting for the codes to be set in
place, and yet, hurricane season is only a month and half away. This place
really has a lot going against it right now. But, as for Pastor Nare, his church
is back up and running and he is doing well. It was nice to see him again, and
to catch up, and to have him meet our work crew.
After dinner we strolled around the French Quarter, and walked down by the
Mississippi River. It was a nice night, and we kind of lost track of time. So,
we are in late, and will be up early. But, we are excited about our progress,
and are looking forward to seeing some of our projects come to completion. Hope
all is well in Sayville. Have a blessed Lenten Wednesday.
Day 4: Wednesday, March 29 2006
After getting in late last night,
today started a bit later, and a bit slower. I think we all hit a bit of a wall
today and just had trouble getting moving and staying focused. For breakfast
today we headed into the French Quarter to Cafe Du Monde for some delicious Cafe
Au Lait, Hot Chocolate, and of course, beignets (fried dough squares about an
inch thick with about three quarters of an inch of powdered sugar on top, much
like a zeppole I am told).
With hands sticky and greasy, and bellies full, we arrived at Saint John. The
wall we painted yesterday survived what little rain we had over night and still
looks good. Today, we continued power washing the courtyard, tried to finish
laying all the tile in the kitchen (we're almost done with that), hung a lot of
sheetrock in the principal's office and other areas of that building, and got a
coat of paint on the front church doors that we had sanded. (They called it
stain, but when Rose applied it to the door, it turned out to be burgundy. Not
my preference, but it's their church) We again had a nice lunch (spaghetti,
peas, bread, and chocolate cake, although Rose and Leo ate sushi which they had
been talking about since we got here) brought to us by a Melanie who we found
out just got married after Katrina. Her house was completely destroyed but her
husband luckily had parents in Metarie which is by the airport whose home was
not damaged. So they are there for now, but would like to rebuild on their place
in NO. She said if they can survive Katrina and living with the in-laws for so
long, the rest of married life has to be a piece of cake.
After our work detail we took a drive to the Garden District where we found some
really nice houses that looked almost like plantation homes which had survived
the hurricane, or at least had the money to repair quickly. And then, just a few
houses down we'd see a house with the roof blown off and junk on the street. It
was an interesting part of town...apparently no zoning or neighborhood
beautification laws. We got back to St. Paul at about 6:30. They did not have a
Lenten service here that we knew of, so I quickly sat down to try and find
another church that was. We missed going to Pastor Nare's church because their
service was at 7 and we would not have made it. Instead we found a church on the
West Bank across the Mississippi River in a little town called Gretna. The
associate pastor there is a man named Larry Beane whom I graduated the seminary
with. We attended service there and had chance to talk with him a few minutes.
We also got to meet a few of the congregants there who were thick-accented
cajuns with a lot of stories about the olden days. Nice people, loved to talk,
and we got some real laughs from our conversations with them.
At this point, the evening was fading quickly. It was 9, and we still hadn't had
dinner. Unfortunately, the way it goes around here is that places close up early
because they can't afford to stay open and pay people to work late. So, many
restaurants only serve for one shift and many have just a limited menu. So,
unfortunately tonight, all we could find was McDonald's. Not our favorite, but
it was hot and available. So, we brought our food back to St. Paul and ate in
the conference room. I think it was the first table we ate at all week without
sitting in each other's laps.
Well, another late night, and there's only two days left of working. We have
made great progress, but there is so much more that needs to be done. I just
wish we could do more, but everyone we have met has been very appreciative of
our work at the church. Even when we meet people on the street at night, when
they hear we are from NY and are volunteering down here, they always say thank
you even if they have no interaction with the church at all. The people of this
city are just happy to see a physical manifestation of caring. They are
delighted that people from everywhere care enough to take a pause from their
life to come and help them. It has really helped to keep our spirits up and our
focus right while we have been here. Take care.
Day 5: Thursday, March 30 2006
Today we got going fairly early.
We were eager to finish our projects from yesterday which were close to being
done finally. We finished the tile in the kitchen, sheetrocked the offices as
much as we could, we tried to do some plumbing work in the school bathroom, but
the equipment was wrong and the tools inadequate, and we finished staining the
doors to the church. Then, we had a bit of bad news. A member of the church came
in and said that the stain we had been given was the wrong stain, and he asked
if we could re-sand the doors and do them again. To be nice we said okay, and
then we proceeded to leave them as they were. We already had two coats of stain
on, and we are only planning on working a half day tomorrow. The doors look 100%
better than they did before, and I think for now, they can stay the same. They
have bigger fish to fry.
Speaking of food...I know, it seems like all we do is eat. But, today's lunch
was homemade jambalaya, bread, and cookies. It was great! And, the ladies that
brought it also gave each of us goodie bags of New Orleans stuff. It was very
nice. The members of the church are just so appreciative of us being here, and
they want to thank us, but it really isn't necessary. In the afternoon we moved
a bunch of stuff around in the school in preparation for teachers to come in and
get set up for the next year, and for the church to start storing stuff in the
school so they can renovate the church building. We also set up their computer
lab, painted the kindergarten classroom and moved some cabinets to the school.
It was a lot of lifting and moving, and we are sore today from it.
We finished up around 4 today, got cleaned up, and headed out to Metarie by the
airport. We had been invited to the Lutheran Disaster Response camp by the chef
to have dinner tonight. He was doing southern barbeque (or bar-b-q, or BBQ,
which ever you prefer). It was delicious, and we had a chance to visit with the
other 130 people who were at the camp and are doing work down here. It was a
great time, and Bill, that's the chef, is trying to get funding to go around and
do New Orleans cooking at various churches that have been down to raise
awareness and raise money for the relief effort. I gave him my card and said
we'd be glad to have him. We'll see if it comes to fruition.
We got back to Saint Paul at about 8:30 and we are enjoying some down time for
once. Tomorrow, like I said, we are only working a half day, and then we are
going to see some sites in the area as a close to our trip here. The work has
been long and hard, but has been good, and we have fallen in love with the
people around here. Everyone is so nice and welcoming and has appreciated our
presence. It's been great, but there is so much more to be done. I hope our
district keeps sending groups down, maybe even us again in the fall. We'll see
where the Lord leads us.
Day 6: Friday, March 31 2006
Our last day of work. We got to
the church around nine, and no one was around, and we had really completed all
the tasks we were assigned plus some. So we started out by finding things to do
on our own, general cleaning, picking up trash and the like. Once Bethany, the
principal showed up we started doing windows and prepping the floor in the school
building so they can lay tile once it comes in. Overall, today was a bit
misdirected but still worthwhile.
Lunch was provided by a very nice lady named Sarah (by the way, down here
everyone is Miss or Mr so and so. Thus, Sarah is Miss Sarah, and so forth). She
brought shrimp po boys and pralines (pronounced prah-leans down here) which were
very good. Sarah also shared a lot of stories about how the congregation slowly
started to trickle back in after the storm and how comforting it was to gather
in the church for the first time for service.
After lunch we cleaned up and went for a drive through a hard hit part of the
Lakeview area, and we saw the place where one of the levees broke. All the
houses we saw had been completely submerged, and all of the sand and silt had
piled up inside the homes. Unbelievable sights. We then headed back into the
lower 9th ward again and saw some places that were in really bad shape. But what
was amazing was the number of people who are around, trying to take care of
what's left of there house and property. The people really believe they are
going to move back and rebuild. By and large, the people here have a great deal
of hope which is kind of neat to see. It is sometimes easy for us to say that
it's a total loss. Bulldoze it. But the people here are saying no. This is home,
and it's going to stay that way. I am sure the attitudes would be the same if
roles were reversed.
After we drove around we came back to Saint Paul to rest, and then a few of us
headed out to the French Quarter to look around again. Cindy, Leo, and I went to
the Cathedral of Saint Louis for the 5:00 mass and stations of the cross. It was
kind of bland but the cathedral was neat on the inside. We then came back to St
Paul and got the rest of the crew and we headed into a nice part of NO which was
not really hit hard. It is the home of Tulane and Loyola Universities. We were
able to meet up with Cindy's distant relative, Allison, at a local dive called
Franky and Johnnie's. The food was good, the waiter was really nice, and Allison
was even gracious enough to pick up the tab. We had a great visit with her and
got to hear the scoop on the political scene here, as well as how colleges are
dealing with the devastation.
Now, we are back at St. Paul getting ready for our last night on the cots. It
has been a really good experience here. There is so much more to be done. As I
said on the first day here...things are not okay here now. This cleanup will
take at least another 5 years, and who knows about the local economy. It's going
to be a long process, and they are going to need a lot of support.
Hope everything is going well in Sayville, and we look forward to seeing you all
in the days to come.