Sunday, September 04, 2005

Volunteer for Gratitude

A blogger friend received the following letter from a friend here in Houston.

I just got back from 6 hours working at the Astrodome. I got over there at 6:30 this morning. The reception center was in the Astro Hall just next to theAstrodome. Thousands of people were lined up outside waiting to get processed in. The buses were still arriving. It is hard to capture in words the scene and the feelings.

As you have seen onTV 98% of the people are black. I would say that 25% of the people are elderly and infirm; 50% are mothers with small children; and 25% are mother, father and children. Few appear to be able bodied men. They are all exhausted. The room reminded me of the scene at the finishing line of a marathon. Total exhaustion.

The people were polite and appreciative. A lot of tears of gratitude. Many wanted to recount their experiences. They were in the Superdome, in the suburbs, out on the freeways. I spent a fair amount of time just being a caring person. I spent a couple of hours setting up cots. We lined them up in lines -- two cots head-to-toe, about 200 shoved next to each other in each line, 8 lines. The cots for the most part are those that are spring loaded with a bar on each end. We put a rough blanket on each. I then handed out Red Cross Comfort Kits bags. These had soap, toothpaste, tooth brushes, etc. Most people headed for the bathroom to try to clean up. They stripped down and took sponge baths. A couple of boys had washed their clothes and were trying to dry them under the hot air hand dryer.

Most of the rest of the time I was passing out cold drinks. We had three bighorse troughs with soft drinks and water in ice. As the sun rose it got very hot outside so we began carrying cold water outside to the people waiting in line. I felt like I was witnessing the scene in the movie "Schindler's List," where Schindler hosed down the boxcar to get water to the Jews inside. These people were desperate for water. Two girls came up to me barefooted. They said they had lost their shoes in the flood. We went back to the room where there were bags of donated clothes and found them some shoes and socks. I was on my way out when I saw an older women who had a permanent tracheotomy. She was crying. She had to hold up a plug to her neck so she could talk. She said she needed to lie down right away and all the beds were taken. I managed to find her a bed. She lay down and I covered her. She was asleep by the time I walked away.

Many people were worried about relatives. One woman said her husband had gotten on the bus behind hers but it did not go to Houston. There is no way right now to reunite families. People are walking around holding signs with someone's name on it. A lot of Houston people are pouring into the Astrodome to help. At least for now there are plenty of volunteers. The Houston Police are out in force and staying out of the way. The Red Cross is doing a great job. If you ever had doubts about donating to them, I can tell you that they are absolutely necessary in situations like this. Private citizens would not be enough. The medical community is out in force and many of these people need medical treatment. They need money. They need clothes and especially they need shoes. If you live in a city that has a shelter they need your time. If not today then over the next few weeks.

These refugee centers will provide some immediate relief but you can not leave people sleeping cheek to jaw for very long. Also there are no chairs. There is nothing to do. They will have to be dispersed to smaller centers where they have a little privacy. Many of the refugees became volunteers themselves. They helped keep things clean. They carried drinks and tables and chairs. Janis Joplin has a line in a song that goes Freedom, just another word for nothing left to lose. That song came to me as I was working there this morning, partly because it also mentions New Orleans. Most of these people had nothing left to lose before Katrina. Now they have lost that.


Jake McCafferty said...

Houston's response has been amazing. Ignore the media idiocy. The government is not the solution to every problem. In fact, when you look at the flooded school bus parking lot -- with hundreds of unused buses -- you'll see that the government makes the problem worse. It's private citizens who make the difference.

Oh, and the Joplin song, is "Me and Bobby McGee." Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin' for a train ...

Trudging said...

Wonderful post.