September 14, 2005

Ahem. Anyway...

I haven't written much the last couple days. Primarily because my experience this week volunteering at the red cross shelter was so -- well, there isn't a word really -- that I haven't been able to figure out how to tell you about it.

The good news (?) is that the shelter will be closing tonight, having placed the last of the families in temporary or semi-permanent housing (?) or appropriate (?) medical facilities. The question marks are there because I'm not sure. And I'm not sure anyone is sure.

I heard different stories from different people woring with the red cross on the benefits of speeding the placement of folks (from hurricane to housing in 10 or so days) in hotels, appartments, medical facilities and even other shelters.

The Red Cross is more experienced than I am, so let's assume there is a master plan. One of the workers wasn't so sure though. She said "They're selling these people a line of bull, sending them to the hotels on Busbee Parkway when none of these people have cars, telling them there's public transporation when you know there's only one bus a day out that way. How are they going to get to the grocery store? Who's taking them to the doctor? All they want is them out of the way."

Hmm. That made me think. The families they've sent to hotels on Busbee Pkway will be in a pickle if some agency doesn't run some buses to the grocery stores, walmart, doctors, etc. Metro (AKA) Atlanta is nothing if not spread out. And not walkable. Cobb County in particular has always balked public transportation because of the "there goes the neighborhood" mentality. ON THE OTHER HAND, if I had been in that shelter for a week or more, I would want MY OWN SPACE, not rows of beds with make believe boundaries made out of duct tape. I'd be wanting SOME WALLS and some non-public rest rooms. So I know I would have been jumping for a hotel room.

I plan to check into how things are going over at the hotels next week and see if these folks have what they need in the way of transportation. I can at least give a few lifts if they don't.

Many of those who aren't at hotels have been placed in apartments. I heard a bunch of the volunteers whoop up a cheer when one of the clients was matched with free housing for a YEAR. Now that is a great way to help someone restructure their life to start again without having to wonder where they'll lie their head.

The Red Cross workers were really trying hard to make the residents at in the gym feel at home. I baby sat a one-year-old girl named Kenya while the driver took her mom over to lens crafters to get new glasses. While I was there, they helped about six folks get their paperwork and eyeballs over to Lens crafters to get re-hooked up with eyeglasses. People were looking snazzy coming back with shiny new frames!

Little Kenya is on dialysis, and she had just come off, so she had been throwing up. But with a bottle of pedialite in her hand, she was ready to rumble. I had fun chasing her around the place, picking up crayons, and after about two hours I sang her a song while she fell asleep on my shoulder.

I can't really put words around that. Something about touch. Something about softness and vulnerability and the gift of a child's small arms, and who is holding whom, raspy voice humming along with my words, trusting me enough to let sleep come. Wshew.

Once I put Kenya in her bed, I helped the other volunteers pack up boxes. Since this shelter was closing the next night, we had to pack up the storage room for the truck that was coming to take the extra supplies down to Mississippi where they still need it badly. It amazed me how organized the storage room was and what a variety of items it held. Everything from toys and board games to DVDs to tampons to showercaps to Bibles. Lots of Bibles. Get ready for Sunday service, because you folks in Mississippi have about four dozen Bibles headed your way from Cobb County. Praise the Lord.

I also met a man named Richard Lee who is an artist in New Orleans. I almost said "was." His story sounded -- how can we even use this word? -- typical of what we've heard from those who barely escaped: Three days stuck in his attic, his daughter missing until yesterday when they flew her in from Houston where she was sent when they were separated, all of his tools art supplies gone, and no idea how the galleries where his work is being shown made out. I set Richard up with a google email account. I gave him our phone numbers. If he stays in contact, you'll hear more about him from me. I would like nothing better than to be able to get his hands back on some tools.

When we were done with our shift that afternoon, my co-volunteer friend and I took 14-year-old Shane from the shelter to my pool so he could hang out, relax, swim. His mom is still looking for her twin boys that were with their father when she and Shane left New Orleans. She was glad Shane could get out of the shelter and do something fun. He was allowed to be out until 10:00. My friend asked him when he wanted to get back. He said, "Is 9:59 okay?"

He jumped off the diving boards like a pro and said he couldn't remember the last time he'd been swimming. Then corrected himself: "Oh right, it was before the storm."

That is the a/b switch playing in the minds of the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been interrupted with a trauma so immense it's hardly describable. There is 'before the storm' and 'after the storm.' The first part of their lives and the rest of their lives.

The only thing I know for sure is that I have new folks to add to my prayers. And I have.