By Eric Weinrib, Web Editor, MichaelMoore.com
Before Rita hit, we rented a 26' truck and literally packed up Camp Casey-Covington. Tents, coolers, boxes and bags were loaded for transport. The bulk of the volunteers hunkered down at a church in Tylertown, Mississippi while the rest of us headed to Mobile, AL to meet up with a group called S.O.S., Saving Ourselves.
S.O.S. began their hurricane relief operation around the same time as the Veterans for Peace. Their missions are near identical and the organizations share complimentary needs. S.O.S. is allowing VFP to use their warehouse as a staging area and VFP is providing volunteers to help organize the space and distribute food, clothing, cleaning supplies, etc. to those in need. Two houses, right next door to each other, were offered to VFP for housing volunteers. This is where we are now staying.
In the days after Rita hit, I drove the truck almost constantly. We picked up hundreds of sets of bed sheets, pillow cases, silverware sets, other kitchen items, generators, chainsaws and two pallet jacks to roll them off the truck and into the staging facility.
Two days ago, I drove back to Covington to pick up hundreds of boxes that arrived just as we were leaving. We were lucky enough to find a former registered Republican, just up the road, who was more than willing to hold onto the packages for us until after the storm. The flawed response to Katrina was the last straw for him. Republican no more.
Howard, a Vietnam veteran from Redmond, WA made the trip with me. We got there at nightfall and loaded the supplies from a horse trailer into the truck. We slept that night in the back of the truck, door wide open, shooting stars in the sky. It was unbearably hot and after working in the sun all day, it wasn't hard for the mosquitoes to find their feast. I slept, I paced, I sweated buckets, I slept some more. Howard, on the other hand, slept like a baby.
In the morning, we drove to Franklinton, LA to pick up 25 generators, 10 of which were delivered, along with the supplies from the horse trailer, to Algiers. Some of the generators were then delivered to Houma where the fishermen were in danger of losing a year’s supply of food if they didn't get power soon. On the way out of Algiers, we gave away strollers and baby seats that people had donated. We met a man from North Carolina who was hired to cater for FEMA and the Red Cross. He tells us they are eating well in New Orleans. We gave him a lift to a drugstore so he could buy himself soap, toothpaste and other items to make him feel clean.
He pointed us to the I-10, which we were to take to Baton Rouge where yet another truckload was awaiting. We found the I-10 but the westbound ramp was closed so we traveled east. Noticing that the road was in fact opened to westbound traffic, we tried to find an exit at which to turn around. Each and every ramp was blocked by a police vehicle. We stopped at each and every one and asked if we could use the exit to turn around. After several stern denials, we found someone to help us. The officer thanked us for our relief effort and told us we could exit, but that if we didn't cross right under the freeway and take the first left onto the westbound ramp, "bad things" would happen. We thanked him and maneuvered the truck around his car.
Somehow, distracted by the destruction, we missed the turn that we promised to make. We drove around the block to get back to where we needed to be. There was absolutely no one to be seen -- no cops, no guard, no FEMA, no residents, no one but us. The houses, trees and cars were grey with silt or sludge or something worse. The smell of death was unmistakable. I learned it working at a pet store as a child.
I got back in the truck and we got back on the I-10 headed westbound toward Baton Rouge. This was my first visit to Ward Reilly's house. Ward is so dedicated that he has allowed all of your packages to be shipped directly to his house. I asked if it caused any problems for him. The only thing he could think of was that a neighbor came over, after seeing all the boxes piled in the driveway, to make sure Ward wasn't moving out.
Dripping with sweat, we loaded the boxes into the truck by moonlight. The feeling of loading these boxes onto the truck for delivery is hard to describe. So much love went into these boxes. All of you out there, taking time to put together packages and send them to us, have given hope to the neglected. It is heartening, but utterly appalling that this effort is needed in the first place.
The packages come in from all over the country on a daily basis still. Many, I noticed, are from Ohio. One had "From Ohio With Love" written colorfully on the side of the package. It made me cry for some reason, thinking about who had sent it and what was in it. The mystery of the contents reminded me of the dead grey houses in New Orleans.
Once the boxes were fully loaded, Ward invited Howard and I in to take showers. We were in no position to decline. Ward gave us clean t-shirts and we were back on the road. It was around 4am when we arrived back in Mobile. After two days on the road, I was happy to find an air mattress with my name on it.
This morning, I half-slept through the campers planning their days and departing. I was woken up by a handshake from Ralph who left about a week ago and returned while I was gone. I looked up at him and smiled. I wondered if he wondered what I was thinking. It was good to see him back and good to hear the plans for the progress that was about to be made.
Tomorrow, I will drive the truck to Covington where another 106 boxes await pickup. Behind every box, there are people who truly care. People who can't stand to do nothing comfortably while others suffer. People who want more than anything for the victims of Hurricane Katrina to know they are deeply loved.
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