making the email rounds

now playing: dan fogelberg, “these days”

maybe you’ve gotten this by now, maybe you haven’t.

maybe it’s true, maybe parts of it are exaggerated.

i’ve made up my mind.

you can do the same.


My thanks to all of you who have sent words of encouragement… PRAYERS…. (really need those big time) and thanks too for the additional offers for assistance. I wasn’t going to bother y’all with another email from here – but apparently some of you sharing them (which is fine) (there are lots of desperate people needing to be heard in general terms.) Since y’all are fielding questions on our behalf I’ll take a stab at answering the ones you have sent to me. But remember please that my experience is just one voice in a very remote rural area. You have a better idea than I do, likely as not, what is going on statewide. I don’t get all that much outside news here.

The state of Louisiana is in one of two worlds.

There is the situation that y’all are seeing on TV.

And then there is the support situation in the rest of the state. That is mainly those of us coping with the refugees… POST-hurricane alley.

The photos you see on TV are accurate judging from all of the eye witness accounts of new arrivals. For once it seems the media is NOT sensationalizing the story. It is every bit as horrible as you think it is…..and some of the stories we have been hearing (again – from eye witnesses – not from the rumor mill) will haunt you forever – so I am not going to share them. What you are already seeing will last you a lifetime.

The anger and outrage you see is not limited to New Orleans. The entire state (both worlds) are experiencing it. It is very, very difficult for us to comprehend why we are unable to get assistance. We understand YOU ARE SENDING IT…..but we are having trouble receiving it which is a puzzle in our advanced society

In my area…there is SOME relief present – but it has come slowly and it has been VERY frustrating to access it.

In addressing the delays in getting it here – eh….WE are NOT under water. We have a perfectly clear and dry interstate running into our area from Arkansas as well as Texas….we have an international airport twenty miles from here that lands military planes all the time….cargo planes….we are having difficulty understanding why the aid can’t come in here….we are the center of the state. Barksdale Air Force Base is in this state. We are mystified by the hold ups. For New Orleans and for ourselves.

As I shared with you last night – our specific refugee camp is doing fine……we are sharing what we have (the refugees and the few local families in our remote area)…..we are NOT fine because the stuff you are sending got here. Our own self reliance and willingness to share has gotten us to this point – NOT because any agency has offered assistance or because the government is helping us.

We just don’t understand.

We don’t’ understand why it took the Congress a week to get to D.C. (they will get there by NEXT MONDAY??????) to pass a bill to help us ???? We don’t get that. If you want to help us – ask your elected official where they were between at the point they knew a Category 5 hurricane was FOR SURE going to hit New Orleans (last Sunday)…..between that day – and NEXT Monday (eight days later???) – where have they been?????

Please ask when they come back after a senate “fact finding mission”…..or as they convene yet another expensive “commission” or committee investigation…..or hop over here to ladle a spoonful of food at a real clean and sanitized shelter – before the TV camera – in a week or two – ask them where they were yesterday – on August 31st????? We would sort of appreciate it if they would answer that for you. That might help the next citizens in harm’s way.

There will be LOTS of opportunities for photo ops….People will be suffering for a long, long time.

We don’t understand why two nights ago the officials in charge put out a request for any and all type of boats to evacuate people from New Orleans. Boaters responded by the hundreds. Every person in our area including refugees answered the call. OVER 200 boats showed up to help. When they arrived they were told only twenty would be allowed to go and assist. We don’t get that. People are dying. The Cajun boys in boats from around here grew up on the backwaters and bayous. They can drive the rivers and channels at night with ease. Why would we not send them in there. Their flat-bottom boats and airboats would have done some good as far as we can tell. They know the water ways here better than the highways. They are damn good shots, they are used to allegators…..and they have grit…..They are skilled in this area….more so than anyone unfamilar with these water ways. Why weren’t they given a chance???

Central Louisiana organize a bus carvan two nights ago – on our own – to go and get people out of New Orleans…and they were turned back. TODAY the ordered our schools closed here and ordered every bus to come and help out. We didn’t need to be ordered – we tried to do it a full day ahead of the order.

The coordination of efforts and resouces is non-existent as best we can tell. The citizens in general seem more effective (or at the very least AS effective) as the alleged professionals with all the technology and machinery.

We know you are sending help to us – but they won’t let the help we have mustered GIT ER DONE. And while we wait for the outside world to arrive – and the rule pushers to sanction our efforts ….people are dying.

Thank you for being frustrated with us. Thank you for your outpouring and compassion. Thank you for making noise. We know we are not alone. And we take extreme comfort in that fact. We can give generously and completely cuz we know help IS on the way.

Until then the puzzles will continue I expect.

We don’t’ understand why the Red Cross is refusing to feed refugees housed in homes all up and down the state. We are told they must be IN the shelter to have hand outs from the Red Cross – and yet the shelters are full – they can’t HANDLE the people. So hundreds of citizens are taking them in – and assistance is being denied to those not in the shelters. The reason given for this – at least at our Red Cross office – is because “regular citizens” might try and take food they are not entitled to – so they can only feed those who are in their shelters.

OTHER agencies (not the Red Cross) are addressing that by simply asking to see an ID verifying that the refugee is from a devastated area. The address alone is proof they are from areas that no longer exist. And even after it has been discussed with the Red Cross (that this person can prove they are from a hard hit area) – still the Red Cross will not give them food.

The Central Louisiana Food Bank is – tomorrow – opening the doors for my group….finally (it will be five days after the fact)…..finally they will get their first bit of help from an institution (as opposed to individuals).

So if you are going to give money – I recommend giving it to agencies who are actually getting the supplies to the needy. Some of the churches have decided to help by opening their own kitchens as the rules and regulations are simply not working in this particular disaster. It might have worked in the past but not this time. Give the money to your local church. They will get it to us.

If it helps you – in this area the Methodists and Baptists have definitely waived all the nonsense and cut throughout the red tape and they are feeding people. Period. All that money raised from concerts and such didn’t feed them tonight. But lots of upstanding United States citizens did. I didn’t witness it with my own eyes but I have heard the Salvation Army is getting food distributed and they are not worrying about requiring paperwork to get it. They are feeding hungry people. Period. Relief workers – whomever. And I say thank you to them for that.

It frustrates me a bit that for some reason the Red Cross – who is getting MOST OF THE MEDIA COVERAGE seems the least responsive for those of us in the out laying areas. Which is not for one moment to say they are not going good things – I am sure they are – but they can’t seem to cover it all. So I would like the agencies filling in the cracks to get recognized too. The Red Cross is a private agency – I think it would be okay to spread the wealth a bit.

It is more complex than what I am saying in this note. I understand that. But what I am sharing with you the frustration of relief workers and refugees.

Refugees are asking me how they can get money. I have no answers.
They HAVE money. But can’t access it. And when they cannot get food from the relief centers – they need to buy it. (Well not in our area – we have it covered) but in most areas they are spending their own money to get food.

Example: one refugee has money in Chase Manhattan. We have a branch office not too far away so we contact them and they cannot release funds to this person. Why? Because the refugee’s branch office no longer exists and they cannot verify his funds????

There is a woman here who needs baby formula – and she is a welfare mom – the process of evacuation lost her identification – so the social workers says they cannot help her. Interestingly enough a private citizen did help her.

A reasonable person can perhaps cope with all this on a normal day – but if you have lost everything you own…you have not eaten..the baby is sick….you have walked (or sometimes dog paddled) and waited days to get to civilization and hours in a line in the heat – it is simply more than you can process at that point.

The campers we are assisting in are in a National Park. They are being charged fifteen or twenty dollars (depending on which site they selected) a day to camp there. The government is telling the public that all federal resources are being provided to our state – and yet the victims are being charged to camp on federal land…….and we don’t understand that.

We don’t understand why the park rangers took a sprinkler away from the kids today. It was a few minutes of fun for the kids and a wee bit of relief from the heat…we dont’ understand how that was an enforceable rule today. The explanation? The water is for human consumption – not for recreation.

We understand that is the rule in NORMAL times but – why oh why – can’t the folks in the government just get the finger out of the dike and allow common sense to prevail.

Some refugees (I am told) (it happened before I arrived at camp to sort things out) …anyway….they ran out of money and were told to pay or leave by the ranger. A federal employee. They were safe and well fed while they were here – but we feel as helpless as y’all feel when these types of idiotic bureaucratic situations arise. And they do – all day long.

It would seem after all the hurricanes last year in Fla…….the FEMA teams would have figured out how to mobilize a bit faster….the politicians could do more than photo ops……..We sort of wonder if they spent even one hour in the Super Dome …if that wouldn’t have just been enough get them moving to help us a bit faster. I am reasonably sure 100 people would have been happy to exit in order to give them seat.

And so – it goes.

Amid the frustration the other news you have not heard are the scenes that don’t warrant the media spotlight. Like the woman I met tonight that came home in a towel tonight (I verified the story with her daughter)…..she took the clothes off her back to give them to newly arriving refugees from New Orleans.

Or the bone weary nurse I saw at Wendy’s tonight …..propped up against the wall waiting for a salad. Soooo tired…..and she ended up leaving without it…..cuz more people were arriving at our hospital from New Orleans… is not unlike of the all nighter scenes from the M.A.S.H television show. But this nonstop support is real.

One of “my” families left our camp today. Before leaving I watched them…..divide up the few belongings they had – giving them to the remaining refugees. It was difficult to watch.

These people simply could not tolerate the heat and bugs…and decided to head north in hopes along the way – someone will take them in. I think you will when they get there.

Leaving the grocery store a few minutes before midnight tonight – we ran into other relief workers – all of us ramping up for tomorrow. Like us they are untrained and unprepared. Just trying whatever they can think of to help.

It was a good meeting. None of us planned it…but it helped. We found ourselves sharing tips for dealing with the emotional duress of the new arrivals who are about to go thru the roller coaster of churn now that survival is assured. We were all surprised as we stood there- that we all cried a bit – none of us had let ourselves do that up to that point.

There we were – strangers and yet not at all strangers. Black and white…..and not one ounce of a color barrier. We exchanged phone numbers… for where to get medicine – who still had baby formula and diapers… to by pass the idiotic rules…..and we a pledge to share any excess between our shelters.

And so it goes.

Pounds of frustration.
Tons of hope.

We know you want to help.

We (the shelters) can buy food…,if they have the resources to do so. All of the stores are open and stocked. We can buy batteries and flashlights and such (but don’t worry – if you sent them down here – they will be used before spending money) – the truckloads of stuff will all be used.

However the priorities of the day are shifting depending on the transient nature of the population. One day you have lots of children to entertain….then some leave and the new arrivals are mostly elderly with a different sent of needs.

As I indicated in my last email – I caution you to donate your money wisely. Many groups are here. Many of the lesser known groups are not getting mentioned but they too are invaluable. LIke the Diabetes association who has actually been driving insulin to the shelters (again not waiting for the paper shuffle to end…..)

There have been folks in the area getting the word out they have medicine for Aids patients. Lots of agencies. If you already have a church or favorite charity…chances are good they are (or will soon) send help our way. It isn’t splashy – but it is effective.

In closing – since such a situation could occur in your area too (natural disasters are everywhere)…..I suggest you get an emergency bag in order including copies of all of your medicines, insurances, identification cards and copies of your very favorite photos.

One thing I hear over and over again is the regrets of not having saved family photos.

Sorry if this is too long. But it helped me wind down to have chat with the outside world tonight.

Thanks for thinking of us……and loving us with such compassion. I truly wish we NEVER have to return the favor.



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