Thursday, December 15, 2005

Share Our Strength

From an e-mail sent by Bill Shore, the head of an organization I admire, "Share Our Strength":
Last week, Share Our Strength did something that not many others have done. We returned to Louisiana. And in larger numbers. We returned with modest but heartfelt financial support and perhaps more important, a delegation we call Hinges of Hope consisting of more than 30 business, civic, media and philanthropic leaders from around the country.

Despite wanting to write immediately after that trip, an entire week has gone by. My only excuse is the challenge of making sense of what we saw as we drove for hours through an American city first flooded, then abandoned, and now paralyzed and alone.

The streets are still piled shoulder high with debris that may take more than a year to remove. Overturned cars dot the neighborhood. Every few blocks for mile after mile, a person can be seen standing by themselves on their porch, staring into the soggy shell of a mold and stench filled house. We spent several days in New Orleans and Baton Rouge visiting the flooded and abandoned lower 9th Ward, the FEMA trailer villages, schools that against all odds have re-opened, and meeting with families, students, teachers, legislators, and foundation officials. Still, we could not make sense of it.

It made no sense that Doris Votier the superintendent of schools in St. Bernard Parish, who was able to cobble together a new school from 18 donated modules and trailers but has not yet received FEMA dollars, couldn't get the city to install a street light on the dark corner where her students each night board the bus back to their trailer or hotel, and remembers that the first help to arrive was from a Canadian Search and Rescue Team.

It made no sense that tens of thousands of trailers could be purchased and congregated into makeshift FEMA villages but that with the onset of cold weather no indoor space could be constructed for residents to meet or families to eat.

It made no sense that the number of members of Congress, outside of the Louisiana delegation, who have come to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation in the state capitol to understand firsthand the rebuilding challenge, is zero.


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