Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Strangled in the Red Tape of the Safety Net? 9.20.2005

Finally got Blogger to upload the photos.

Subject:
Strangled in the Red Tape of the Safety Net? Get this off my NECK!
Date:
9/20 11:03 AM

Hi all,
Couldn't write to you yesterday. Was just too damn tired.

A friend wrote a couple days ago, calling some folks "hurricane angels." Well, we met some yesterday. Sent here by a group called Van Nuys Relief, in trucks evidently donated by Avon, the marvelous Schlene and friends (don't know if they want to be named or not so won't presume until they tell me) got four guys to drive them to us here. These trucks were full of stuff. Clothes, linens, toiletries, tons of medical supplies (not just neosporin, guys, amazing necessary stuff), food, water. It was incredible. These guys, Ian Sothenberger, Pete Sanchez, Shawn Booth, Jeffrey Snyder, drove these trucks all over the place. Took one to Picayune then headed here. We told them the route in here then David and I met them and took them to the distribution place at Blaine Kerns. There we were told that they couldn't take the linens and clothes and toys, but would take the food. So David and the four guys started unloading the truck. We put all the medical supplies in my Voodoo mobile and I took off to find someone who would take this awesome stuff. Many people lost all their clothes, their bed linens, everything. Even if their houses survived in some parts of this neighborhood, some of their stuff was just gone from water damage through the roof.






First stop, Red Cross. They had set up a station at Landry High School, right across the street from some of the most decrepidly maintained housing projects I've ever seen. A very poor section of Algiers. I find a woman there. Tell her I have clothes, bed linens and toys but I need a truck to get them to her. The stuff is only ten blocks away. She says no problem. She's delighted. She then takes me to the head of the Red Cross station who is a lovely woman hog-tied by Red Cross regulations. She says that because they aren't brand new in the package she can't take them. She wishes the Red Cross would give the field workers some authority but they don't and it would take a MONTH to get the paperwork through to get this stuff to where it's really needed. She said she REALLY needed it but couldn't take it. Regulations. She suggests I go across the street to the other part of the high school or start my own relief organization.

I head across the street. It's FEMA. I start to tell the head of that field office what's happening. She starts hollering at me, flapping her hands and repeating NO NO NO NO. I was fine til she did that. Then I was pissed. She said she had talked with Jackie Clarkson, our city councilwoman. I said, good. Give me her number. I called Ms. Clarkson, got an answering machine, still no answer and those guys and David are still standing in 94 degree Louisiana heat with these boxes. She keeps hollering at me, I turned around with her still talking and left. She had the same excuse, not new in packages.

I headed to a local church. No one there. Found another church with Red Cross people in front of it. (By now I'd called David a couple times, first saying I had a truck, then saying I didn't, trying to explain what was going on where I was.) I get a Red Cross Chaplain. Explain the situation to her. She says I have to go over and talk to, you guessed it, the FIRST lady I talked with. I said, why don't YOU get in my car and come see what we have. She says she can't. There's a baby faced Red Cross volunteer in front of the Church. I say, fine send HIM with me. She says he's not authorized to go with me in my car. Regulations.

By this time I'm furious. I KNOW people need this stuff. I've been in their houses. I go back to Blaine Kern's and the guys have taken matters into their own hands, literally. There are news crews all over the place and these guys just open the boxes and start giving the stuff out themselves. SCREW the bureaucracy. People NEEDED this stuff. What they couldn't give away in the time they had before they had to go home, they packed up and decided they'd give away on the way back. I found out later last night that those linens had come from four of the finest hotels in Los Angeles. Places the people who got them couldn't possibly afford to stay at for a night. Places the people flocking to the Red Cross center would dream about. The whole thing was unbelievable and I was well beyond mad, but it was just starting.







What about all the medical supplies?? I'd been given a list of supplies needed by a doc who was running the med tent over at Kern's. There had been a clinic set up somewhere else, and he had left a message for me that he "couldn't take the supplies" I could get in. The list he gave me includes everything from alcohol swabs to antibiotics. It's a huge list. I not only can't FIND the clinic he's supposedly at, but the Red Cross and FEMA won't take the med supplies either. You should have seen the back of my car. Incredible stuff had arrived. Better than Christmas. I stop by the 82nd Airborne and find a doc there. He comes to the car, helps me cut open the boxes and sees what's in them. His eyes told the whole story. He said he really needed this stuff but "wasn't allowed to take it." For gods SAKE, the stuff is sealed in individual sterile containers. IV stuff, a sharps container, I can't begin to list everything there was so much. By now I'm near tears. There are people, David and I have FOUND them, who need this stuff. But no one can freaking TAKE it? Why? Because it's regular private citizens like us who are getting it donated and trucked in and distributed. I don't have the right paperwork. It's absurd and obscene.

Finally I find another clinic, by pure luck. I see a sign saying First Aid Station. I head in there and there is a fabulous midwife nurse practitioner. First she wants to treat me for heat exhaustion (I was pretty red in the face by then, coulda been heat, probably anger!), I laugh and grab a bag of ice and take her to my car. She sees what I have and says "Take it to the Clinic on Teche. They need it desperately." I know the Clinic there but in my frustration hadn't thought of them. They're run by self proclaimed anarchists, getting support and supplies from folks like the Vietnam Vets for Peace out of Baton Rouge, Common Ground they call themselves and the Black Panthers are also helping them out. Well of course they are! It's a poor black neighborhood in need and the sign outside the clinic in a Black Muslim mosque says, SOLIDARITY NOT CHARITY. Incredibly I find a doctor there. He sees the treasure trove that I've been driving around for nearly three hours and he adds more requests to my already huge list. He says the state is trying to shut them down because they are a volunteer clinic. All the people working there medically are doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, along with the volunteers who are doing outreach on bicycles, but they aren't a HOSPITAL. They are working under the radar and are the only ones getting anything actually DONE from what I can see.

The guys who brought the trucks through from LA are angels, David termed what we're doing "guerilla relief" and he's right. If you try to go through the governmental safety net, you'll never get anything DONE. Nothing will get to the actual people who need it without tons of time (and ya know, time isn't something we have a lot of when some people have been in need for three damn weeks now---we don't HAVE another freakin month to wait for the properly stamped paperwork).

We're still working with the Church of Christ people. Dana, the guy who's running things now that Stan had to go home, is from Minnesota. Wonderful man. I asked if he was with the Church of Christ. He said no. He'd signed up to volunteer with the Red Cross, but was told it would be a year and a lot of hoops before he'd be sent down here. So he said screw it and came down, got hold of Stan and here he is. Bless his heart.

I am including some pictures from yesterday. I only took a few because I was too busy gonzo driving from one place to another. "Try over there, they probably need it. We need it too but CANNOT take it." Incredible. Wanted you to see the angels handing things out on their own.

For the rest of you who want to send stuff, boy do I ever had a medical list including a lot of high blood pressure meds, things like that. Until we find out if Rita drowns herself in the Gulf or not, we're going to wait to send you lists of requests and ways to get them in. They're talking about a mandatory evacuation for us tomorrow. We're not going. Want you all to know that. We plan on still being here next week. The storm is now headed for Texas, but could veer off. We would hate to see a lot of necessary stuff get here now and just get blown away if this storm DOES hit a little more east than they are currently predicting. We will keep in touch with those of you trying to send stuff here. Our phone works most of the time and I actually got a voicemail retrieved the other day, but don't count on that. Our cell phones seem a little better and text msgs do seem to get through. We'll keep in touch because it's citizens, just plain folks, who are going to get things to the people who need them from what I can see. The people working for the big guns are by and large wonderful, whether they're the field workers or the Army/National Guard/Navy/AForce guys. These guys are fabulous. But the bureaucracy that oversees them is too unwieldy to get any real help in in a timely fashion.

Please know how grateful we are to you and how grateful the people getting this stuff are. We can never thank you enough.

Oh yes, and found two more cats in the shop yesterday while walking around inside with no flashlight, just a lit "Prosperity" candle. Still two missing, but the candle was appropriate. What was sent to us by the hurricane angels (thanks for the term, Louis!) was prosperity indeed. THANKS VAN NUYS RELIEF!

There was a little tea set in the toy box. It went to Terrianna, the little girl who's laughter helped us out the day we got the medical runs done. Will send a picture of her when I can. I have lots of pics to send out. Just gonna have to do it piecemeal with this connection.

Love and Light,
Bec and David
_________________________
NOTE 9.20.2006
The trucks filled with supplies were pulled together by a group of film and television stars in Los Angeles. They had solicited help from Beverly Hills hotels and anyone else they could contact, then they funneled it through a wonderful woman named Schlene. Somewhere here, I have photos of those same trucks being loaded up in Los Angeles by Matthew McConaughey and others. I'll try to track them down. It was mainly Patricia Arquette and Jake Webber behind all this from what I could glean at the time. I didn't mention their names in this email, but feel they need to be recognized now for their remarkable efforts during a horrid time. Ms. Arquette's assistant, Schlene, was the point person and worked tirelessly to help us relay information on routes in to the incredible guys that ran that gauntlet. We will be forever grateful to these people for their tireless efforts. (Evidently this group is now called ReliefSpark and can be found at www.reliefspark.org and I found a slide show of the same trucks that got here being loaded there. They didn't mention that they had gotten to New Orleans, but they did. A slide show of the Los Angeles end of things can be found here.

I have photos of the trucks, and the impromptu distribution at this end, but couldn't get Blogger to upload them this morning. I will add them tonight.

9 Comments:

Blogger E.J. said...

My God, I think that's about the most frustrating thing i've read! It's like the powers-that-be do everything they can to not ACTUALLY help people! i probably would've given up; glad you didn't.

1:16 AM  
Blogger slate said...

EJ, we couldn't give up. We knew this stuff was needed so we couldn't just leave it in our car or on those trucks. And yes, it felt as though we were purposely being thwarted by bureaucracies.

Strange but as my husband and I re-read it, we remembered how furious we were that day, and from that day on, we became terrible cynics whenever there was a news report about this or that aid coming in. From what we'd seen, we probably couldn't or shouldn't count on it!

12:25 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Relief Spark was started by a young lady by the name of Sidney Ray. I have never heard of a Schlene and there wasn't a person by this name on the ground in New Orleans, LA.

Sidney started the organization on September 1, 2005 - dropped her world and her consulting business to host donation drives. She had one in San Diego, Ladera Ranch and then...Van Nuys, CA. She told me and other volunteers that her organization was based on a street in Van Nuys where just a few days after launching the donation drive, she had over 350 pallets on the street!

She told us in order to grow to the size that they did - she brought on board a small team of people to support and assist. Those folks went their separate way back in December of 2005 - just a few months after the donation drives. Since then, Relief Spark has been operating by the sole efforts of Sidney Ray and support from out of state and local volunteers who believe in the mission and purpose of helping those in need.

The organization is now located in New Orleans, LA and since coming out in November, Ms. Ray organized a huge Christmas party for 1,500 kids last Christmas in association with Patricia Arquette, NBC studios and Paramount Pictures along with other local and national companies. Each kid received 3 gifts.

Then in Jan. Relief Spark begain recruiting volunteers and started gutting houses. They were one of the first organizations to get started! So far, they have gutted 80 properties and have another 140 to go!

They have rental property all over the city where they house volunteers and have three programs in which volunteers can get involved in to help families and to rebuild:

OPERATION 100 HOMES IN 100 DAYS - house gutting

OPERATION KIDS HELPING KIDS - helping families by meeting their basic needs, helping kids with homework, supplying 27 families with Christmas trees, toys and gifts and being a "big brother" or "big sister"

OPERATION REBUILD NOW! - rebuilding houses for the eldery, disabled and single parents - fun project for groups and families

Sidney has been able to accomplish a great deal by working with thousands of volunteers. She also has been able to pursuade luxury hotels to donate rooms to volunteers and local restaurants have donated meals to volunteers as well such as:

La Boca (argentina steakhouse)
Rio Mar Seafood - the Chef has been named "Chef of the Year"
Rockin' Sake (sushi)

Hotel Sponsors have included:

The Royal Sonesta
The Renaissance Arts - warehouse district
The Sheraton
The W Hotel - French Quarter

Currently the organization is just about booked from now (12.21.06) until the end of April with volunteers. Having livable housing in newly remodeled properties makes a big difference!

If you would like to help New Orleans rebuild and would like to support an organization that with the idea of a single person (Sidney) attracted like-minded volunteers from all over the world support and rebuild a beautiful American city - New Orleans - then please go to: www.reliefspark.org/volunteer.html

I know the organization is also seeking donors and sponsors to help defray volunteer operation expenses.

I am a recent volunteer and I highly recommend this organization. I came across Relief Spark online craigslist and me and a bunch of friends came out. Sidney took the time to explain all the different issues that homeowners were facing in the rebuilding process and when she showed us the video of the donation site - we about fell over. We had no idea that Relief Spark collected $3 M worth of food and water - supplies and trucked out 54 semi and box trucks. It was a total of 814 pallets in all that were delivered all over MS and LA.

That's awesome!

It seems that the smaller organizations can get more done and much faster. That is what makes a difference!

Rock on Relief Spark!

9:54 AM  

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