In the last two weeks, I’ve head and seen a lot of different accounts that seek to reveal the nature of many of the people who took refuge in the LA and TX domes after Katrina. These are not meant in any way to be sweeping generalizations… (I’m just reproducing the accounts I’ve read or received), but I’d like you all to reign in… which are more accurate?
FROM A HOUSTON VOLUNTEER (being passed around the internet, author unknown)
I arrived at the astrodome only to find out that there are too many volunteers and that volunteers were needed at the George R. Brown Convention Center. As I was walking up to the Convention Center I noticed a line of cars that wrapped around blocks filled with donations. These where ordinary Houstonians coming with truckloads and trunks full of water, diapers, clothes, blankets, food, all types of good stuff. And lots of it was NEW. I felt that warm fuzzy while helping unload these vehicles of these wonderful human beings. I then went inside the building and noticed approximately 100,000 sq. ft. of clothes, shoes, jackets, toys and all types of goodies all organized and ready for the people in need. I signed up, received a name badge and was on my merry way excited to be useful.
I toured the place to get familiar with my surrounding; the entire place is probably around 2 million sq. ft. I noticed rows as far as the eye can see of mattresses, not cots, BLOW UP MATTRESSES!!! All of which had nice pillows and plenty of blankets. 2 to 3 bottles of water lay on every bed. These full size to queen size beds by the way where comfortable, I laid in one to see for myself. I went to look at the medical area. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing!!! A makeshift hospital created in 24 hours!!! It was unbelievable, they even had a pharmacy. I also noticed that they created showers, which would also have hot water. I went upstairs to the third floor to find a HUGE cafeteria created in under 24 hours! Rows of tables, chairs and food everywhere – enough to feed an army! So that was the layout: great food, comfy beds, clean showers, free medical help, by the way there was a library, and a theatre room I forgot to mention. Great stuff right????
Well here is what happened on my journey –
I started by handing out COLD water bottles to evacuees as they got off the bus. Many would take them and only 20% or less said thank you. Lots of them would shake their heads and ask for sodas! So this went on for about 20-30 minutes until I was sick of being an unappreciated servant. I figured certainly these folks would appreciate some food!!! So I went upstairs to serve these evacuees some GOOD food .
Evacuees came slowly to receive this mountain of food! I tell them that we have 2 types of great deli sandwiches to choose from – ham and turkey. Many look at the food in disgust and DEMAND burgers, pizza, and even McDonalds!!!! Only 1 out of ten people who took something would say “thank you” the rest took items as if it was their God given right to be served . They would ask for Beer and liquor. They complained that we didn’t have good enough food. They treated us volunteers as if we where SLAVES. No not all of them of course…but 70% did!!!!!! 20% were appreciative, 10% took the food without any comment and the other 70% had some disgusting comment to say. Some had the nerve to laugh at us. A Needless to say I was in utter shock. They would eat their food and leave the mess on the table… some would pick up their stuff many would leave it for the volunteers to pick up.
I saw many young ladies carrying mattresses and I helped for a while. Then I realized something…their where hundreds of able bodied young men who could help!! I asked a group of young evacuees in their teens and early twenties to help. One said “We just lost our ****ing homes and you want us to work!!” The next said “Ya Cracker, you got a home we don’t” I looked at them in disbelief. If immigrants, who come here, can work and become successful… CAN’T THE MAJORITY OF THE HOMEGROWN DO IT!!! If we continue to reward these losers then we will soon destroy our great country. I just witnessed selfish, arrogant, unappreciative behavior by the very people who need help the most. Now these same people who cursed me, refused my generosity, refuse to help themselves are now DEMANDING handouts on their terms!
I think it’s time that we demand work for relief and stop this cycle of behavior which is going to spread in our city which already has enough of these problems.. It’s this behavior which has caused these ‘REFUGEES’ to be in the situation presently in and they will continue to be ,until they learn that work is rewarded and laziness brings nothing… It’s sickening to hear the press act as if it’s noble to be a poor person. IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP AMERICA!!
A frustrated but wiser Houstonian!!!!
FROM A STAR-TRIBUNE COLUMNIST (written September 15, 2005 – verifiable)
Gratitude, not anger, comes from Astrodome
Katherine Kersten, Star Tribune
September 15, 2005
Jim Lodoen shakes his head at some of the news reports out of Houston. They feature angry Hurricane Katrina victims lodged at the Astrodome who insist they are receiving insufficient assistance. Lodoen, a Minneapolis attorney with the Lindquist & Vennum law firm, just got back from a week as a volunteer at the Astrodome complex.
“That’s not what I saw,” he says.
Lodoen didn’t plan his Houston trip with hurricane victims in mind. He went to visit his sick mother. But before he left, he mentioned to two colleagues that he would be staying at the Holiday Inn, temporary home to dozens of victims. “I told them I planned to make contact with a few families, take them to Target or to a restaurant,” he says.
The two eagerly asked to contribute, and pressed cash donations on him. The next day, as others at the firm heard about Lodoen’s plans, donations poured in. An amazed Lodoen left on Sunday with $3,700, which swelled to almost $8,000 as the week wore on. He used the money to buy $50 and $100 Target gift cards to distribute to displaced families.
Once in Houston, Lodoen made his way to the Astrodome complex, which houses thousands of victims displaced from ravaged New Orleans. He was prepared to find chaos. Instead, he says, he was struck by how well-organized the massive operation was. “There was lots of food, and free stores stocked with clothing, personal items and games. Volunteers on laptops were helping people find family and friends.” FEMA, Social Security and other agencies were out in force.
Lodoen circulated among residents’ cots, striking up conversations. “Everyone has lost their possessions, their jobs, many friends and perhaps some family. No one knows what tomorrow holds.”
But to his surprise, he saw no resentment. People were eager to talk, he says — not about grievance, but about hope and gratitude.
He met a family that had slept in stadium seats for four nights. “I said, ‘That must have been terrible.’ ‘Oh, no,’ the woman said. Instead of focusing on what they lacked, they were deeply thankful for what they had: food, lights, a roof, each other.”
Another family told of fleeing their first home two days after moving in. The mother and father left hand in hand with their children perched on their shoulders, struggling through water up to their necks. They were awestruck at nature’s power, and grateful to survive. Now, at night, the parents plan their future as their children sleep.
After chatting with each family, Lodoen handed out Target cards “from your friends at Lindquist & Vennum.” Recipients responded with tears and embraces. People were grateful, says Lodoen, for each small gesture: a pat on the back, a listening ear, a lift to Target, an outing for ice cream.
For six days, Lodoen heard tales of courage, perseverance and fierce family love. Over and over, people told of risks that relatives, neighbors and strangers had taken to save them.
One grandfather had rescued 200 people from his housing project by floating them out on foam-filled doors he had ripped from refrigerators. Another older man had saved his 20-member extended family with air mattresses. “All their belongings were under his bed in a plastic bag,” says Lodoen. “I gave him three Target cards. He offered to give one back because he didn’t want to take more than his share for himself and his five children and their children.”
Yet another man — now serving as a volunteer coordinator — had lost his house, his business and his truck.
Instead of fleeing New Orleans, he had ferried terrified people to safety until his truck ran out of gas. A plumber, he’s grateful that he has the skills to work and rebuild.
Back at his mother’s hospital room, Lodoen saw television reporters interviewing victims who appeared angry and indignant. “I thought, ‘Where are they coming up with these people? I’m not seeing them.'” He was also shocked at the shrill finger-pointing on the news. “All around us, politicians are focused on the blame game. Yet the victims themselves are blaming no one. I didn’t hear one complaint. In fact, I was overwhelmed by the love, faith, determination and compassion that everyone shared.”
One black woman, says Lodoen, pointedly rejected charges of racism: ” ‘There’s been no racism,’ she told me. ‘There are only kind people helping everyone, black or white.’ ”
In his experience, says Lodoen, two things keep victims going. The first is their families. Often, three or four generations bunk together, making plans to start life anew. The second is religious faith. “Nearly everyone told me their faith in God sustains them.”
One mother of five is typical, he says. At night, she reads her children Bible stories, and prays for Lodoen, his mother, his law firm and others listed in her prayer book.
Lodoen acknowledges that hurricane victims need government aid. “But volunteers can do something more. With hugs and kind words, they can let people know that someone — an actual person or group of persons — cares.
“That makes the victims feel like we’re all in this together. And we are.”
I’d be interested in any of your observations and stories…
A couple of conclusions I’ve already reached…
1. It’s obvious that there are thousands of people that need LOTS of help, and in any disaster, emotions and tempers can flare. We do not get along with one another very well in times of routine. We shouldn’t expect heaven on earth in times of crisis.
2. Yet in times of crisis, the character of people is revealed. Some step up to the plate, and do what is needed, for hours on end, tapping into reserves of faith and inner courage. Others, it seems, spill out what was in their core character already: bitterness, hatred, jealousy, anger, etc.
3. A disproportionate amount of people of one socio-economic class wound up as refugees in the domes. They brought with them their life experiences, attitudes, and worldviews.
4. Our nation’s system of “helping” those who are poor and disadvantaged often does little to address their true needs: self-respect, integrity, initiative, and desire to belong.
Just some thoughts… What are yours?