New Orleans: The bottomless pit


Mopping the kitchen floor this evening, I realized that the need never ends. Not in the community, not at Hands on New Orleans, housed at a neighborhood church for more than a year.

Plastic trash cans used to haul debris have holes. Paper towels run out all the time. One refrigerator needs to be kicked shut to stay shut, while the other one that holds enough food to feed the nearly 100 volunteers is on the fritz. One van’s alignment is shot.

It is a bottomless pit of need.


I know the generosity of the Birmingham folks first hand. We brought boxes of supplies (cleaners, safety suits, baking soda, toilet seat covers). More friends brought the rest, including a new chainsaw.

By week’s end, refurbished laptops will arrive, thanks to Curtis Palmer and TechBirmingham. We’re handing over gift cards from my dear friends James Brown, Bill Halligan and Molly Watson.

If I knew who donated all of those supplies, I’d thank each one personally. For now, this must suffice: Thank you, Birmingham, for loading us down with critical donations to bring to Hands on New Orleans. Your generosity helps those who help others.

The need never ends, but neither does the giving. I finally met Rev. Lance Eden, the pastor at First Street United Methodist Church. If not for this oasis, thousands of Hands On volunteers would have never met, stayed and assisted the people here.

Not many churches have the capacity or the inclination to take on such a huge effort: We eat here, we shower here, we roam the facilities at all hours, we arrive and we leave.

Thank God for this church.

• • •

Every night, we have a community meeting. The agenda never changes: new faces, project reports, announcements and more. The last part gives departing volunteers a chance to say something.

Ryan has been here three months, and clearly the experience has changed him. It’s certainly changed others around him, as evidenced by a few heartfelt tributes this evening.

He represents the best renewable resource, the volunteer spirit.

It also marks the bittersweet aspect of life on Dryades Street. Getting close to volunteers can be tough in the long run. You get to know people, you become fond of them, and then they’re gone. Sooner or later, they’re gone.

Sure, new faces show up at all hours at the side door. But letting go of the old ones isn’t easy.

Maybe it shouldn’t be.

• • •

Mike and I are part of the evening KP crew, which not only includes dinner cleanup but also bathrooms and dining area.

He has already had a long day, having gone out on his daily project while shooting 170 photos (including the one above), changed a flat tire on a staff van and just now, unclogged a sink. Talk about multitasking.

The dinner leftovers are carefully packed away. Supplies and food are rationed carefully, with little waste.

I clean the filthy kitchen floor, wringing the mop by hand. The other mop bucket is elsewhere, spiffing up one of the bathrooms.

My mop bucket is without a wheel. It functions, but modestly.

It’s a question of need. For now, for always.

• • •

My guide to New Orleans


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