New Orleans Work Trip - May 2008

A group of 12 from First Congregational UCC in Waterloo, Iowa, set off for New Orleans Friday May 16, 2008.  The following is a collection of (mostly) my pictures with minimal commentary.  I sorted them into some categories but they are not entirely chronological.

If you only want to look at pictures, that's fine - just click the links.  If you want some context for what you will see, then read the blurb for each first before going to the picture pages.  The link back to this index page is at the top left of each picture set.

On The Way

We left from the church Friday afternoon in two vehicles - the church van and a Highlander that Gary convinced his wife, Linda, to trade for his truck for the week.  (Thanks, Linda!)  We drove as far as Ferguson, MO (a suburb of St. Louis) that first night and camped in the fellowship/ education building of Immanuel UCC.   

The full group picture was contributed by Dave, but he didn't take it since he is in it.  (I think maybe Greg did?)  

Our Home Away from Home

We stayed in classrooms that had been converted to dorms in St. Matthews-Central UCC in New Orleans.   These pictures are in and around the church building.  Central UCC's building sustained extensive damage and so they have joined with St. Matthews in a covenant relationship for now.  The long term status of the joint congregation is still under discussion but we thoroughly appreciated their hospitality and worshiping with them.  We arrived about 7:30 PM Saturday night and were met by volunteer church member John Etter who showed us around the building, answered questions and gave us keys. We cooked most of our own meals in the well-equipped church kitchen so a grocery store trip was necessary that first evening.  

Exploring Our Neighborhood

After Sunday worship,  7 of us set off to explore the neighborhood.  This part of town is on a ridge so was high enough that it was not significantly damaged in the storm.   Streets are lined with Southern live oak trees also called evergreen oaks) - the landscaping and homes are beautiful.  Some of the pictures were taken in nearby Audubon Park.  

City Tour

Sunday afternoon John Etter met us at the church with some walkie-talkies and gave us a tour of the city.  We started with an overview - some history and perspective - at the church and then set out in the vehicles.  Many of the pictures in this set were taken from a moving van through the window  so you will see some reflections and some blurring.  But I thought it was worth including them because they do vividly show how much work remains to be done even almost 3 years after Katrina.  Industrial size dumpsters and trailers in the front yard are still common sights.  In some places, whole neighborhoods are wiped out - some houses are just boarded up, others have been demolished down to the foundation.  But there also is ongoing progress - some new homes are going up and others are being reconstructed.

Our Work Site

Monday morning we drove to Little Farm UCC for general orientation from the UCC Disaster Response team, then we split into our two work groups.  I was in the group of 5 (Gary, Rich, Celeste, Mike, me) who worked on Miss Sophie's house.  Elaine was our site coordinator.  (She and her husband, Garrett, are from Massachusetts and are volunteering in New Orleans for a year through the "Partners in Service" program.)   The water was "only" 4-5 feet high there so her upper floor was not flooded, though it did incur a lot of wind damage.   Right now Miss Sophie is living upstairs with her daughter; we were working on the lower level that was totally gutted, where she will have her own apartment.  We were lucky that there was electricity (via extension cords) and running water (outside faucet) on site!  

The other group (Tim, Dave, Cliff, Sue, Erika, Connie Jo, Liz) worked on a double "shotgun" house - one side is for Andre and the other side for his mother, Otha.  Garrett was their site coordinator and  I don't have pictures of that work since I wasn't there..  

Miss Sophie worked in her garden most of the day.  When it rained, she came in to help us - she is not used to being idle!   The white marks on her shutter are left over from right after the hurricane when agencies were marking each home after checking it for survivors or casualties.  

Jeff was another volunteer we met who was staying in the men's dorm with our group.  He's an electrician from Ohio and came down for a week to help.  He was wiring at Beecher Memorial UCC so one day we took a short field trip over lunch to visit that site.  Beecher is in an area that was severely damaged and had only been back to hosting worship services for a few weeks - over 2 years after the hurricane.

Groups that worked there have left uplifting messages or bible verses on the unfinished infrastructure.  We also had similar notes on our bunk beds in the dorms - names, churches, dates, words of hope.  That helped us feel some continuity as a part of the huge team involved in this lengthy process of restoration.   

Hope Shall Bloom is one of the themes of the reconstruction efforts in the city and when I saw that plant (the last picture here) pushing up through the asphalt in the parking lot by the library I thought it captured the thought well.

Nights Out!

We went out to dinner on Sunday and Thursday.  Sunday evening we went to Mulate's - a wonderful Cajun restaurant with Zydeco music and dancing.  After supper we walked down Bourbon Street to get the feel of the area.  Though I don't have pictures of it,  on Wednesday night the ladies of the church served us a traditional red beans and rice dinner.  It was very yummy and we enjoyed having some time to visit with them and learn more about the church, the area and some ways that the storm affected their personal lives.  (For example, some who had livable homes left were without power for 3 months.)  Thursday we went to the French Quarter and the Gumbo Shop which also featured local specialties.  We ate well!  It was raining but we still walked around Jackson Square a little bit, with a stop at Cafe du Monde where some purchased coffee to take home.  

 Friday May 23 we worked until noon and sadly said our farewells to Miss Sophie.  We got packed up and hit the road around 2 PM.  The pictures I took on the way out of town, around Lake Ponchartrain were again taken from a moving vehicle, through the windows, so you'll see both reflections and blurring.  I think they give a good feel for what the area is like though.  We stopped at a Cracker Barrel for dinner and arrived at the Memphis First Congregational UCC around 9 PM.  This is an urban church with an impressive range of ministries - from the Hostel where we stayed, to a bike repair shop, to a child care center and numerous support groups.  Their sanctuary is quite unique (see pictures).   Our evening devotional time was spent working on an outline for the worship service Sunday morning where we would share highlights of our trip with the congregation.

Saturday was a long driving day.  We started with breakfast at Otherlands Coffee Bar which has a funky feel, a gift shop and great food.  We stopped in the St. Louis area for a late lunch and then got back to the church at about 7 PM.   The last group picture was taken by John.

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