Friday, December 01, 2006

In Which I Give Out Stuffed Animals; and Other Vignettes

We must strive to pray in the closet, but sadly, I feel I need to come out of the closet for a moment. I'm leaving New Orleans soon, but this region's going to need help for a long time to come. I like to tell volunteers that being here is the second most important thing they can do to help the city recover - the most important thing they can do is to go home and send two more people to take their place. To try and inspire others to do so, it’s important to share these stories of lending a helping hand, even if it does seem boastful. :-( It feels good to help others out, so please, folks, feel good! Come to New Orleans and pitch in, this city sure needs it!

Stuffed Animals
The best part of my job is giving stuffed animals to little kids. Twice this week I got bigger smiles than usual, it was great! Sometimes the kids seem confused, like they’re not sure why I’m giving them a toy, or if they get to keep it. (A friend suggested they may not be used to getting gifts at all.) This week, I gave a little girl a Santa bear, and she broke out in the biggest smile I’d seen all month. I gave a little boy a stuffed gator the same day, and though he didn’t really smile or laugh or play with it, he cried each time he dropped it. Then there was the little boy who got the blue and purple hippo. He pushed it away, brought it close, pushed it away, brought it close, pushed it away, all the while with big eyes and a bubbly smile. He was too small for words, but I think words might have ruined it anyways. Oftentimes I’ll give particularly needy folks blankets – a cold snap hit last night, and many folks in the lower ninth ward still don’t have gas or heat – and they’re always appreciative. It feels good to know I made a direct impact, but nothing compares with a toddler’s smile!

The Spanish Truck
Earlier this week, a man stopped by our mobile unit looking for information. He was a white guy, originally from Alabama. He follows big storms to clean up after them, and has been here for awhile. Part of his construction crew, he said, is a group of Latinos from Beaumont – several adults and a few kids. They were living in a brand new truck, but unfortunately, the truck burned down – it was all these Latino folks had in the world and had all their belongings in it, and it wasn’t insured. :-(
The Alabama guy was hoping we could point him in the direction of help for his workers. I’ve been getting requests for help with the rent money more and more often lately. These requests are generally legit, but I can never give money – just information. I usually give the number for the Office of Disaster Response (which just hired a bunch of social case workers) and advice to see either NENA (a Lower Ninth ward neighborhood association) or Common Ground. If they need help gutting their house or rebuilding, I also give them a list of other programs that gut. I gave this Alabama stormchaser the typical numbers, and we got to chatting a little bit. He was feeling really bad about the tragedy, and said that everyone on the crew had chipped in $50 to help buy the Latinos new clothes. That gave me an idea: we have a handful of Wal-Mart gift cards in the SUV, so I grabbed two (I think they’re $25 each). The guy was flabbergasted – he was just asking for info, not an actual handout – but overjoyed. And that felt good.

Ms. Yolanda
The next day, I helped out “Ms. Yolanda.” She flagged me down in the SUV a few blocks from our warehouse. She was wondering my “Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana Hurricane Recovery” trucks meant we had an operation in the area. (Not really – the warehouse doesn’t have much to offer on its own.) She was a bit distraught because her car had broken down earlier in the day. Her roadside service wouldn’t help her out because the account was registered to her husband’s cell phone, and the account cell has to be with the car to get a response. She’d been stranded for a few hours (she lives a couple hours away), and was dirty and starving. I wasn’t able to offer much – just paper towels, bleach, a candy bar, and a fresh shirt. Quinn couldn’t think of anyone to call to help her with the car, so I brought her the few supplies we had, thinking I’d hand them over and wish her luck. She was grateful, but still needed a shower and some food – and just as I was saying goodbye, I remembered Cat, my friend from Dartmouth, was only a few blocks away at a women’s shelter! I called Cat, who said yeah, we can give her a bath and some pork and beans. (She was also able to give Ms. Yolanda some clean pants, I later found out). I had lunch with Cat the next day, and she said they met Ms. Yolanda’s basic needs and helped her feel better, but she didn’t really calm down. Apparently her husband told her to drive the car until the part clear fell off – not the safest plan, but what can you do. Anyways, I was lucky to remember about Cat at the last minute, and it felt good to walk Ms. Yolanda some clothes and walk her over to the shelter.

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