Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Diocesan Mobile Unit

As you may remember, I’m no longer gutting homes, at least not on a regular basis. I am instead working on the Diocesan mobile unit in the lower ninth ward. Every Monday through Thursday, and occasional Saturdays, we drive a huge RV to an abandoned Walgreen’s parking lot, set up a tent, and hand out free water, snacks, toilet paper, paper towels, masks, Bibles (when we have them), and bleach. This ministry was started in December and is run by Deacons Quinn and Mike, who do a great job.

The process is pretty basic – locals walk up to our tables to get their supplies. We start them off with a bag with a roll of paper towels and two rolls of toilet paper. They walk down our two tables and we drop snacks into their bags: Vienna sausage OR instant soup, peanut butter crackers, a Nutri-Grain bar, chips, maybe a Moon Pie or some other sweet. Then we give you a couple bottles of cold water (my hands just about froze off today, reaching in to that cold cooler ice water again and again!). Some days we have more snacks than others – it all depends on what’s donated when. My birthdad, Kerry, donated 20 boxes of fruit cups, and we went through most of it yesterday. A couple from Kansas brought novels, laundry soap, and toothbrushes. The toothbrushes went quickly yesterday, the laundry soap was a huge hit today, and the books seemed to go over well – we’ll give out the bulk of them tomorrow.

The bleach distribution is a little more complex; we don’t just give it out willy-nilly like the snacks and paper goods. The Diocese used to, but the powers that be said no more bleach: it’s costing us too much money and isn’t that effective against mold anyway. Deacon Quinn said now hold on a minute; it is a popular item, people do appreciate it, so rather than cutting it out entirely let’s just be more careful about it. So, under the current system, the first time you ask for you bleach, we won’t give you any, but we’ll look at your ID (if you have ID) and put your name on a list. If you come back, we’ll know you’re serious, and we’ll give you bleach. People can have one can a week.

My role in all this is evolving. As I help more and more, my knowledge will be helpful – Deacon Quinn won’t have to constantly teach new week-long volunteers how to set up the tent and tables or run the bleach book. I can do it myself, or I can show the volunteers how. I also help Deacon Mike, manual-labor style, at the warehouse where we store supplies.

Our ministry is an important one. Quinn says we’re there more to help people with their spiritual needs than anything else – so a willingness to listen, to give hugs, and to smile are all very important. Today, he talked to a woman who needed help getting to her next payday, but wasn’t even asking for a cash loan – food would be something. In the ninth ward, we are the church. And indeed, people are very grateful, even if all they want is two bottles of water. The smiles and thank-yous we always get are quite genuine, even from the tough guys! I’ll tell you about some of these people (as well as about our warehouse and the state of the city) in my next couple posts. This past has gone on long enough. Allow me to finish by saying it’s a blessing to witness the fruits of your labor: at a time when more churches are leaving the Ninth Ward than are opening, the Church of the Annunciation, a local Episcopal church, has managed to start a missionary church in the ninth, the Church of All Souls. This is in part thanks to the seeds Quinn’s ministry has sewn. Isn’t it wonderful to see the Lord working through His people?

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