Monday, September 12, 2005

A Report Back from Food Not Bombs on the Ground in Louisiana about Feeding the Displaced

This just in from a local Tucson activist I know:


From: Walt Staton
Date: Sep 12, 2005 1:09 AM
Subject: In Baton Rouge

Well, I thought it was crazy enough the first time that I came to Louisiana a few years ago to live in Baton Rouge, and I figured I'd be back, but not in this capacity.

I made the decision a last week to travel to the south with some friends on an old school bus retrofitted with a small kitchen and packed with over a ton of food and supplies to bring some warm meals into communities that desperately need any kind of help. Our group is part of an organization called Food Not Bombs - which has been working for over 25 years to feed homeless and needy people in cities all over the world.

We first drove to Houston where we began to get some information as to where we could be the most useful. After weighing some decisions, we decided to head towards Baton Rogue, where I was able to call up a friend and secure a place to crash.
As it turns out, this friend is working at a small non-profit environmental organization and they had already been bringing supplies out into some far-fetched communities. They were grateful for us to arrive and let us use their office to being coordinating our own activities. The world is full of amazing people...
Today we were able to finally serve our first meals. We got word that over 100 truckers were basically just sitting around in an old Target parking lot, waiting for orders to take water and food into the areas that need it. The truckers, all contracted by FEMA, haven't had food brought to them and are basically stranded with nothing but an Exxon across the street (the Target is closed, so no food there...) They were extremely grateful for our warm meal of beans, rice, chili, watermelon and apples. Many shared frustrations with they way things were being handled. They all knew people needed the water and food they had, but couldn't do anything but sit there.

After spending a couple hours with them, we drove to the River Center, which is Baton Rouge's convention center where a few thousand refugees are being sheltered. We arrived an hour before their 10:00 pm curfew, so we caught people as they trickled back to re-enter. The security line to get into the building was 2 hours long. The food they were receiving was mostly fast food and junk food - nothing healthy or fulfilling. Children didn't have toys (we handed out some stuffed animals).

People were frustrated, but calm. We heard stories from a few people who lived in downtown New Orleans. We heard stories of people who spent time crammed in the Super Dome. People fought back tears telling us of their losses and the horrors they've been through. One man said that tonight was the first time he's laughed in weeks.

The disaster in New Orleans is very real. The death and destruction is real. The rapes, shootings, murder - it all happened. But the hope that people are clinging to is also apparent. People want to return and rebuild. Especially the people of New Orleans - they are proud of their city and want to go back.

We have barely scratched the surface of the emotions here. On Monday, we will embark on the next leg of our trip. We head to an ad-hoc aid camp being set up by Veterans for Peace. Since there is so much red tape that all the official agencies must go through, it is only the small, grassroots groups that can really reach out the the people, especially in rural communities. The red cross can't (or won't) do what it takes to bring medical care to thousands - so it is up to us to do it. While truckers with over a million gallons of water wait, we will go out and cook food. While politicians fuss over who's to blame, we will give children stuffed animals.

Three days into this journey, I already am feeling overwhelmed by the scope of what's going on, but I'm also very energized and excited to be here.

I will have very limited computer access for the rest of our trip until I get back to Tucson next weekend, and cell phone coverage is still spotty out here. But I will be in touch again later with a re-cap of the trip when I get home.

For some photos and stories of what we've been up to so far, check out my posts on Arizona Indymedia:

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