What Slidell, LA? - you may be asking. Read here
, and here.
Then come back and read this update from Don:
It's Monday and I still don't know that I can put down into words the experience of going to Slidell this weekend to help in relief efforts. I will tell you one thing, from where I was and what I experienced you are only getting 1/2 the story on Television. The picture they show of the devastation is real. You cannot "spin" video tape and still photos, you really can't edit them much to make them say what you want, although the most dramatic visual backdrops will always be used. What
can be "spun" is the words, the thoughts, the actions of a desperate few....looters, rapists, rioters, Kanye West, Shaun Penn and other people who want to turn this political.
Slidell is situated 20 Miles to the northeast of New Orleans as the crow flies, but a million miles away in spirit. The pictures, plus conversation and prayer that we shared with the people there probably would not be covered on the news. It was not tragic enough. I am sorry that I have a tinge of cynacism (ok, probably more than a tinge) about this, but outside of deep sorrow, tears, questions and shock - my overwhelming emotion is anger. Anger at the 2 storms that are being covered. One has to do with the greatest national disaster ever recorded in America - and one could turn out to be worse if we don't put aside the "who's fault is it" argument. Easy for me to say 450 miles to the north, but being almost at ground zero I still saw hope, joy, togetherness and work. Much closer to Reverend King's dream of his children's children walking hand to hand with each other than you may know.
After we established the supplies inside of Joy Fellowship we realized that the pastor was simply too overwhelmed to have thought of what to do after we off loaded the truck. Here is a tiny little spirit filled congregation with little to no "infrastructure." A few of us on the trip tend to be a little controlling (read-impatient) about getting thing going. But soon cars began to back up to the church, not necessarily in droves but a steady stream. Person after person when asked what their need was told us exactly what there need was.
"I don't need any water, but do you have 3 pillows?"
"I don't need those pillows, do you have any tums or asprin"
"I don't need that cereal, save it for the babies...do you have any
"We have plenty of water, but we need a little food"
Almost to a person they began with what they didn't need....almost to a person they would tell us who needed a certain item more than they did. I was not prepared for this selflessness. I was prepared for gun-battles, military check points and defense of our truck - later I felt foolish for this.
With each person who pulled up we asked if they knew of anyone trapped, or in deep need. Three beautiful african american ladies who came only for pillows and dry food told us of a story of people in their apartment complex who needed help. We found a mini-van, filled it to overflowing and took off. We found a small U-Shaped two story complex of very simple 1 bedroom apartments - probably 50 units total. As we piled out of the mini van to see who needed what, someone from the pool area came over to ask us if we had ice. He told us that was their biggest need. We asked where the elderly and babies were - he told us to follow him. Under the picnic shelter attached to the poolhouse we found 20 people or so who were gathered during the day to be together...pool their resources and help each other make it better. We found stacks of standard kitchen supplies, items from pantrys and a grill cooking all of the items that were spoiling from refrigerators which hadn't had power since monday. If you add some music. clean the people up a little bit it would have looked exactly like any Labor Day picnic across the US.
So I took a day break from writing this. Luckily the media has begun to cover a little on the positive side.
Ponchatrain road is the 2 mile strip I'll never forget. It leads from Slidell town center to the bridge that feeds across the Ponchatrain into New Orleans. We were stopped by armed national guardsmen. when they found out we had supplies the let us go in. What we began to see there was mind-numbing. The first "neighborhood" we saw was an upscale golf course community. It honestly looked like a bomb went off in a lumber yard, there wasn't even a shape of a house, a roof in tact or anything that would let you know there were homes there. Just a field of lumber. Next we pulled in and talked to some people who has survived in a two level apartment. Next door to them was a hair salon - the entire building which housed the salon was about 250 yards back and to the left, in a lumber field. The further we drove the more news crews and FEMA people we saw....it truly made unreal backdrops for news reports...but the thing is, someone lived there.
When we got as far as we could go on Ponchatrain Rd before the bridge to New Orleans I saw a refrigerated truck, hoping it was ice that we could take back to our friends at the apartments gave me some hope. It was then that we were told it was a temporary Morgue. We had heard that up to 80 people had perished in one apartment complex near by.
By the time we returned to Joy Fellowship we received the good news that the word had begun to travel out and they had a steady stream of evacutees coming in and getting the supplies they needed, and only what they needed. Today is tuesday, we're back at work, and my friend Jay tells me of the great works that continue to happen out of the Joy Fellowship. As he said "once we got out of there they started ROCKIN."
We hear that the goods you supplied have been gone through, and replenished, and gone through again - for a total of three times! They have established a "drive through" where they are issuing goods to people including hot meals. They have had 5 generators donated so the entire church is back in the electricity business! Also, they are housing Red Cross workers and Pilots who are shuttling evacuee's to other areas.
Sorry to be so long winded and disjointed, but I wanted to get this out before too long. Once you get me started talking about it it really is hard to shut it down. There are many, many stories to tell - but I feel like you deserved a bit of a play by play since this really was about YOUR generacity. Thank you for being the heartbeat, hands and feet of God. There are a few thousand people sleeping on pillows with a full belly and a clean shirt on tonight because of you.