The last week or so we’ve been assessing our route to see how dire the need is. As the weeks have gone by since Katrina hit, people (at least in our area of Long Beach) have been starting to get their lives back in order. Electrical, gas, water, and phone lines are being re-established, and folks are getting their appliances working again. As that starts to happen, they need us less and less.
We still serve just as many meals — if not more — but it’s turning into convenience feeding rather than the life-or-death kind. Convenience feeding is something the Red Cross is willing to do for awhile, but we don’t want folks to get accustomed to it, as they need to regain their autonomy and ability to take care of themselves.
We can tell our route is becoming majority convenience feeding in a number of ways. One is that the kids are starting to demand bags of snacks and skipping the meals. This means their parents are feeding them dinner and the kids are looking to the ERV for free goodies. The other way we can tell is that the last couple of days people have been asking us how much longer we’re going to be coming around. They know they’re eating on borrowed time.
There are still a number of special cases, like the folks at “tent city,” a scrap of lawn in front of a torn-up house with about five tents pitched about. Those folks are in desperate straits, with lots of kids, and many mouths to feed. And there’s Alma Felton, the 86-year-old invalid who’s all alone at lunchtimes (her daughter gets her meals for her at suppertime); or 85-year-old Mr. Williams; or Mr. & Mrs. Wally, who were promised meals-on-wheels by FEMA but never got any. And there’s Wayne, the “mentally-challenged” guy who lives with his brother; and Miss Lucie Mae, who’s blind and whose “mentally-challenged” son always asks to “borrow” a pen. And there’s one other guy in a motorized wheelchair who probably needs our food pretty badly. But other than those individuals, I’d say about 90% of our route is convenience feeding at this point.
Something happened yesterday night that cemented this in my mind. Ann, one of the three “old ladies” at the end of the street, came out with a little gift: a delicious loaf of garlic bread and some homemade gumbo. I skipped the shrimps but the rest of it was just amazing. But when your clients are giving you food instead of taking it from the ERV, that’s a sign the neighborhood’s coming back.
If that’s true, my three weeks in the area have come at a remarkable time. When I got here the neighborhood was wiped out, people were desperate for free home-cooked meals, and as grateful as you could be. Three weeks later, services are being restored, people are moving back into the neighborhood, and they look to us for goodies rather than the necessities. Altogether, it’s like a microcosm of the essential services the Red Cross provides, helping a community recover from a disaster, and I’ve been privileged to be a part of it.