On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States. Months later, the nation still struggles to understand the implications of the largest and most costly natural disaster in the history of our country. The scope of the destruction is so widespread that existing relief organizations are unable to address the unprecedented need.
Emergency Communities, a non-political, non-religious organization with non-profit status under the IHC (International Humanity Center), grew out of the desire of volunteers to provide grass-roots, flexible, community based relief to those devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Formed in Waveland Mississippi by volunteers at the New Waveland Café, we aim to go beyond simple sustenance to holistically nourish the entire community. In December Emergency Communities opened the Made with Love Café and Grill in St. Bernard Parish.
Flattened by the storm surge, the area was completely inaccessible for months after Katrina. While the Uptown Highlands of the Garden District and the French Quarter are beginning to recover, large portions of St. Bernard remain a lifeless ruin. Though the waters have receded, several inches of muck still cover many thoroughfares. Nearly all 40,000 residences and businesses were inundated for days, and a large majority of the city's buildings have been deemed unrecoverable. Only a fraction of the city's 65,000 residents have returned, living primarily in FEMA trailers. The municipality has been unable to secure commitments from national grocers and retailers and is struggling to provide even basic infrastructure to returning residents; there are no grocery stores and no restaurants in the immediate area.
As residents return to take stock of their scattered belongings, we continue to grow in scope and ability. Volunteers live in tents pitched on raised platforms, traversing a muddy field and toxic ditch on a pallet walkway. We eat and subsist alongside returning residents in a cluster of domes and tents. Every day new amenities are added. First electricity and port-a-potties, then non-potable wash water from the hydrant system. As Emergency Communities continues to grow we are able to add other comforts, such as newly constructed solar showers and a laundry station.
As locals, volunteers and contractors begin to tackle the enormous task of rebuilding, the Made with Love Café has become a community center providing them with everything from basic supplies to much needed entertainment. Volunteers give their energy and love to the community, and the community responds in kind, sharing not only food but camaraderie and routine, recalling some semblance of their past lives otherwise lost in the flood. Creating beauty and harmony in such a bleak and contaminated environment is no small thing. In doing so, the volunteers from Emergency Communities have made the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding a city more plausible. The absolute necessity of such grass-roots organizations is apparent in the everyday demand for flexibility and personal contact between residents and volunteers.
The residents here are still in need and more are moving back to the area everyday. Emergency Communities needs volunteers and donations to continue its service to the people of New Orleans and the surrounding area. Please come volunteer, support our service based community, or donate what you can in solidarity with our brothers and sisters on the gulf coast.