Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Baton Rouge Relief Effort Weekend Journal

In some ways, there’s nothing new to report, and in others, I could easily write another extended tome about our weekend experiences in the wake of Katrina. Everyone is dealing with raw emotions, unsure what will trigger the next outburst of sorrow, anger, anxiety, or even joy. The overall picture is that we are recovering.

Friday was another weird ghotstown day at work. Most of which was spent on correspondence and news watching. We are now getting back to real work, especially the task of helping our sister colleges by integrating their students and in some cases, faculty. Friday night, we went back to the River Center to volunteer. We’re extremely happy to report that downtown is very safe and secure. We have found a ‘magic’ parking spot just one block from a police check point for controlling traffic to the shelter. We’ve parked there all but 2 times (once getting a little closer, and once parking one spot behind). So know, that from the time we get out of our car until we get into the center we are within eye and ear shot of the police. That said, let me make it clear that things feel very safe and secure regardless.

We’re also happy to report that the volunteer situation has become much more organized. Now, after we enter, we report to a check-in station where we are assigned a task and usually a person to report to. There are so many volunteers from all over the country that Friday night; we actually waited an hour for an assignment. We actually decided to leave. The volunteers from far away will have to go home someday, and we’ll still be here. We spent the latter part of Friday night at a cookout exchanging stories and friendship, vacillating between avoidance, heartwarming stories, and the negatives.

Saturday, we volunteered at dinner-time and put in a good shift running meals to people who could not get in the lines. Even though we were interacting more with the refugees than in the past, it was too busy to really have much to say. We were again serving meals ready to eat, which they were not happy about (though they were quick to let us know they were grateful, just hoping for something more comforting). That should stop now. We were specifically serving the MREs so they could get a more accurate count of refugees. Although the shelter is full, the Red Cross keeps taking new people in, and these people are in the worst shape. On the other hand, people are leaving, in many cases families are driving in and finding relatives. So, getting a solid count will help so that when they prepare meals they will all be eaten and all will have meals to eat.

Maybe you’ll be interested in the grand layout of the shelter (and now I realize I’ve gone the tome route). Here’s a link to the layout maps of the center: http://www.brrivercenter.com/site89.php# The ground level map is probably the best.
The exhibition halls are really just one hall (I suppose it can be sectioned off for exhibitions) and was the first place to fill with refugees while we were on the loading docks Tuesday night. Before we left, on Tuesday, the arena was filling up. At that time cots were scarce. When we returned on Wednesday, they had opened up the Galleria, Veranda, and meeting rooms on the plaza level. The meeting rooms are now used for Red Cross coordination, a movie room for entertainment, and infirmary rooms. Every open space on that level is full of cots, people, and whatever possessions they were able to bring. The loading dock is where we’ve spent the bulk of our time. It appears that they are letting anyone with donations drive right into the dock, and we unload for them, and sort it. There are supplies of all kinds in every free space throughout the dock area. We spent a lot of time yesterday sorting blankets, sheets, pillows, and towels. As quickly as we sorted the blankets, they were all gone, given to a new busload of 120.

We are constantly amazed by our first-hand view of the generosity of our fellow people. There’s a near constant flow of vehicles with donations. SUVs filled with brand new towels and gently used bedding, and when they leave, they say we’ll be back. When we left yesterday, the volunteer room was absolutely full of new volunteers waiting to take our places. We’ve also had the great fortune of running into many friends and co-workers volunteering. Friday night, as we were leaving, we ran into our next-door neighbors. They have an eighteen-month-ish (you know how good I am with that stuff) baby, and they had a babysitter, so this was their date night. They were told to familiarize themselves with the layout and come back for an assignment. We showed them around on our way out, and as we walked through the baby supply area we overheard a supervisor saying she needed two reasonably competent volunteers to organize the baby supplies. Voila, a perfect match.

Well, that’s enough for now. Leaving on an up note. This week will be strange, with the colleges starting up again, filled with a few new students. That also means that neither of us will have as much time to volunteer. We’ve decided we can do Monday and Tuesday evenings, and sometime on Saturday. I think the updates will be less frequent, but I promise to keep touching base with you all in the days ahead.

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