Note: St. Bernard Project is one of the charities on the Chase Community Giving list. If you’d like to vote for them, please do so on Facebook at: http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/charities/486661. It is one of many worthy projects vying for funding.
“A year ago I participated in my synagogue’s second mission to New Orleans to help with the St. Bernard Project. The SBP was started by a couple from the Washington, DC area after they had learned just how much still needed to be done. The Project generally works on about 30 homes at any given time, and uses volunteers (skilled or unskilled) supervised by trained Americorps workers for virtually all of the rebuilding. Because of this, they only need to raise money to pay for the materials, which run approximately $12,000 per house.
When I heard participants from the first mission that Beth El synagogue organized speak about their experiences, I knew that I wanted to be part of it. Between volunteers from our synagogue and those from the Methodist church across the street, we were quite a large group. Each participant paid $300, which covered the rental of the volunteer house and cars, as well as most meals which we shopped for and prepared ourselves. We squeezed 22 people (and luggage) into that little house! With only two bathrooms and all on the same schedule it was challenging, but somehow doable for the short-term!
We flew in on a Sunday, and on the way to the volunteer house we visited a store/restaurant in Metairie, getting our first eye-witness account of Katrina from the owner. He described just how the mechanical/electrical destruction wreaked by Katrina contributed to the flooding. For most of us, the hurricane and the flooding are one and the same, but the people of New Orleans have survived many hurricanes without the flooding, and have often dealt with minor flooding from Lake Pontchartrain. The breaking of the levees in conjunction with the massive destruction of power systems by Katrina is what caused the devastation.
I have to confess that I was shocked by much of what I saw. Four years later, and so much abandoned, deserted. Shopping malls and office buildings looking like ghost towns, interspersed with islands of renewed activity.
Five other volunteers and I spent the first two days working on the house of a fellow named Ron. We sanded the spackled walls and ceiling, smoothing out all bumps, focusing on the seams of drywall and corners, but not missing an inch. If you’ve done work like this you know that it’s very time consuming and tiring.
Ron, and his boarder, were living in two small FEMA trailers adjacent to the house, so I had the chance to speak with both of them. Sadly, it’s much the same story from everyone—”please don’t forget us” and “we are so grateful for your help.” And then everyone’s personal stories of how they survived, when they returned, what they found, what they lost. Who had lived in the home with “Demo Only” painted on it (demolition). I walked up and down sections of that street. A few houses inhabited, most not. People living in awful FEMA trailers that were the only roofs available. And which the government intended to take away the following month. The enormity of the remaining need started to penetrate at that point. Most of these people had few personal resources, little money.
The final house I worked on was in the earlier stages of restoration—namely, mold remediation. Since everything hurt by the flooding was moldy, EVERYTHING needs mold remediation. The process requires four steps including 1) sanding every single surface of every piece of wood which “wakes up” dormant mold, then 2) wiping down every surface with the mold killer. To miss even a tiny spot means to potentially allow mold to survive, grow and spread. 3) painting over every surface with a sealant. 4) fogging the home as a final measure. Sadly, many companies don’t bother with all these tedious steps and take shortcuts which have major impact later on. With SBP, the work is done well, with lasting results,in a timely fashion, and through volunteer labor and donations.
We knocked off a bit early on the fourth day and went to visit a home that was almost completed. A very happy thing to see! And we drove around, getting a better picture of the stages of reclamations. Some areas looked quite beautiful; in others, there are still many homes with designations sprayed on them. We didn’t know at first what the tic-tac-toe-ish patterns and numbers meant. But after Katrina, when everything was unnavigable piles of debris, half flooded and mudded, and rescuers were combing through so many miles of devastation for survivors, a quick system was needed to show that homes had been searched, and whether bodies had been found, and whether human or pet.
In a couple of days, the third mission will depart for another week of volunteering in St. Bernard Parish, unfortunately I’m not able to join them this year. What I can do is to help publicize the good work they’re doing with the hope of encouraging others to participate AND to vote for the St. Bernard Project as a recipient of Chase Community Giving.”
You can also find more information on the St. Bernard Project at their website: stbernardproject.org