On Saturday, Irving Bible prepared the building to offer a range of services to Katrina evacuees. Throughout the week, staff and volunteers had been delivering meals and flyers about the event to hotels in the area. Our pastor, Andy McQuitty, sent out an e-mail asking for volunteers to show up on Saturday morning at 10:30. We needed counselors, physicians, computer nerds, child-care givers and volunteers in general. By 11:00 over 500 people had shown up to help and they had to make an announcement that those who hadn’t already been given a job could go home and please come back next Saturday because we’re doing it again. It was an incredible outpouring of service!
People were able to e-mail family members or register their name on the Red Cross web site to let friends and family know that they were ok. There were several bounce houses set up in the parking lot for the kids to play in and a distribution center handed out clothing, diapers and other things.
As Laura was helping three preschoolers get checked in to child care, she saw an amazing thing. A lady came in the building, saw the kids and became overjoyed and started screaming, “Oh! You made it out! You made it out!” She ran over and started hugging them. They turned out to be neighbors in New Orleans and hadn’t seen each other since the day before Katrina made landfall. The kids were able to take the woman to their mother and Laura said seeing that reunion was just incredible.
Because there were so many volunteers at IBC, Shailen and I decided to see if there was somewhere else we could be of a little more use. As it happens, they were in need of some help at the DFW Hilton just down the road so we made our way over there. After sorting clothes for a little while, we came back and picked Laura up from the church and went back to the Hilton. In the four hours we were there, the line of cars dropping of donations never slowed down. It was a steady stream of people giving whatever they could to help out.
I’m sad that we don’t have any pictures because it was a heart-warming thing to see happening. It felt good to be doing something tangible, something that made you break a sweat. There is something very cool about being a volunteer among volunteers. You’ve never seen these people before in your life, you probably never will again; but because you’re standing a couple feet from one another sorting Medium, Large and Extra Large shirts in to piles of collar and no-collar, for some reason you’re instantly best friends. And it isn’t just that everyone is working towards a common goal, it’s that everyone is working towards a common goal for the benefit of someone else. When we’re all at the grocery store, we share a common goal: filling up the pantry and refridgerator. But for the most part, we’re consumed with our own agenda. We get in, we grab the stuff, we get out. I’m never standing there picking out pasta sauce going, “Ah, you like the Classico brand, too, eh? So, what line of work are you in?” I don’t know, maybe the rest of you do that and I’m a jerk.
The Hilton has converted their conference center in to what is essentially a makeshift Goodwill for the hotel’s guests. Five hundred Hilton employees have come from New Orleans and are being given free rooms for a week. And not employees as in management or front office. These five hundred people were the maids, kitchen staff and janitors. They are in a heart-breaking situation; having left everything behind but having absolutely nothing to return to. As they enter the conference center there are rows of bags for them to chose from, then they can make their way from table to table, filling their bags with clothing, toiletries and other necessities.
Laura put herself to work sorting boxes and boxes of infant clothing. She also walked around with several women, helping them fill their bags with something that hopefully looked like a step in the right direction.
Shailen and I were part of the group that was unloading donations from vehicles. This was an interesting subculture. Either directing traffic makes people overly anxious and hyper, or overly anxious and hyper people tend to volunteer to direct traffic. It’s a chicken and egg thing here you guys. All I can tell you is that the two gentlemen who were primarily responsible for relaying information to drivers needed to chiiiiiill ouuuuuuuut. But, God Bless ‘Em, they took their job to heart. The Unloaders (Shailen, myself and probably a dozen others) were an interesting species to observe. As a fresh car would pull in to position, it would be descended upon before it had even come to a complete stop. The driver would pop the trunk and the sound of the latch giving way triggered a Pavlovian response in all of our hands to start reaching and grabbing. The sight of ten or more hungry hands diving in to a trunk, starving to help…that’s not even a metaphor…that’s a living, breathing example of humanity’s intrinsic desire to serve. Something very evil and very clever exists that too often makes us forget that desire.
I remember being at my cousins’ house once when we were little. Well, I should rephrase that; the house actually belonged to my aunt and uncle, I’m relatively certain that they were the ones who covered the mortgage. All the same, one night Aunt Martha was entertaining us by inventing games. She came up with a brilliant one that I don’t think we were able to truly appreciate being about ten years old allowing for three years of standard deviation. As she told it, the purpose of the game was to, “try to out-courtesy each other.”
“Oh, you go ahead.”
“No, no. Please, you first.”
“No, really. I insist.”
“But no, honestly. I’m begging you, go right ahead.”
“Don’t be silly. Go on, please.”
I’m not really sure if we actually played the game, but I thought about it a hundred times on Saturday. As the Unloaders picked a car clean, there would occassionally be a person who didn’t get a bag or box and would offer to split the load with someone who had. The game of out-courtesying was on! Fortunately, the over-zealous traffic directors had usually already moved another car in to position and the empty-armer could swoop in pile up.
It was a blessing to get to be there on Saturday. There are snapshots of people in my mind that I hope I never, ever forget.
The range in quality of donations was amusing. Shailen emptied one bag that contained some sort of ab-roller. Laura sorted some hand-me-downs that could be traced back to the Johnson Administration. Whatever you can give, I guess you give. And a lot of people are giving a lot. There were a couple of cars I helped unload three different times. People would show up with several hundred dollars of brand new merchandise from Target. I carried eight brand new duffle bags still in the packaging to the luggage section. Even before I could unpack a single one of them, people just coming in were asking, “Are those for us?” The look of astonishment on those people’s faces as I got to give those bags away is one of the snapshots I don’t ever want to lose.
I just hope this initial outpouring of support doesn’t dry up in a couple of weeks. Laura and I are praying that it doesn’t happen to us. It can be a little too easy to let the impact heal, or even worse, to find yourself getting bored of the situation. It’s pretty clear this is going to be months, and months, and months of healing and rebuilding. The people of Louisiana and Mississippi are going to need the support they’ve had these past couple of days well after the disaster has ceased being frontpage news.