Thursday, September 01, 2005

Volunteering Day 2

First, a few things that have come up in e-conversations that might need clarified:

1. I may have downplayed the damage done to Baton Rouge. I haven't been able to focus on the numbers, but many parts of the city are still without electricity. I counted traffic lights on my way home last night, and 5 of 8 were not functioning. There are trees down everywhere, but most have been at least removed from streets. That said, we were never very scared during the storm. We're in a very good place. A representative from Entergy said on the news last night, that they expected to restore electricity to the whole parish (county) by Saturday.

2. The people in the shelter where we are volunteering are from New Orleans, or other areas that were hit harder than us.

As I mentioned yesterday, it felt very weird being at work. Both LSU and Southern have cancelled classes until next week, so it was a ghost town, with only about half of the staff returning to work. Janet was back to work at the gallery, but they closed early so we could head back to the shelter.

As we walked toward the shelter, we saw lots of people milling about, getting some fresh air outside. And saw a touch football game being played by 10-16 year old children on the levee. Yes, it was a sloped field, but running and playing had to feel better than being cooped up inside. On the other hand, I felt for the teenage girls walking behind us, whom we overheard say, "Just chillin, there's nothing to do but chill." Invoke heavy sarcasm on the last chill.

Inside the shelter last night was a little more organized. We arrived just before dinner service and helped pass out food. It was a very long, slow line, but orderly. There were many more volunteers, who appeared to have things under control, so we floated around doing odd jobs. A semi-truck full of cots and blankets arrived on the loading dock, but couldn't pull in because someone had parked in a way that impeded the turn. Frustration rose, as cars, trucks, and vans full of donations stacked up behind the semi. We started going to the vehicles and carrying the donations, not ideal, but it relieved the congestion quicker.

Back to odd jobs, this time we started cleaning up behind the food distribution area. Empty packaging littered the area behind where the food was being served. As I was throwing away cardboard packaging, two other volunteers who we had met earlier said not to throw away the thick cardboard. They had worked through last night and said that soon people without cots would come asking for cardboard to provide a little more warmth and softness atop the concrete arena floor.

We then switched to "running". Running consists of going out onto the floor, finding a family and asking them what they need, jotting it down, and heading back to the donations area to see what we could find to fill the list, "size 6 girls shoes, socks, underwear, and a blanket, etc." The donations area was much more organized than the night before. There was a pretty clear clothing area, baby area, and toy area. But sizes were very mixed. Most of the volunteers were sorting or running because the meal service was running so smoothly. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the running was interfering with the food service and all runners were asked to stop until the food service was complete. It was hard to stop because after you dropped a load with a family, another family was asking for help. The reason this might have been a little fortunate, is that everyone switched to sorting, so hopefully future running will be much quicker. Oddly enough Janet and I found ourselves sorting children's shoes, pairing them, and sorting them by size. I really hope someone's list of needs includes girls size 4 tap shoes. A little tap show would probably do all some good.

As we were about to leave, a volunteer meeting was called and it looks like tomorrow will be even more organized. We'll have a check-in point, and be assigned a specific job. We'll look forward to that. We also found out at the meeting that this shelter was guaranteed to be open at least 30 days and that all shelters in Baton Rouge are now full.

Once again, we ran into friends volunteering. And met new friends. The spirit of camaraderie is overwhelming. Several times we found ourselves working side by side with strangers, not talking much, focusing on the task at hand, but when we or they left for the next task saying goodbye as though we were longtime friends.

Well, I really should attempt to do a little more of my job today than yesterday.

No comments: