The Forgotten Lower Ninth
We had been forewarned: It will be dirty and dilapidated at our next destination. But nothing could have prepared us for the conditions we were about to witness in the Lower Ninth Ward, arguably the poorest neighborhood in New Orleans and the hardest hit by the storm.
Over the past 15 years, I've traveled to four different countries in Africa, and the concentration of poverty and despair I've observed in the Lower Ninth over the past few days is either equal to or worse than anything I've every seen in Africa. As the second anniversary of Katrina approaches, there are few signs of rebuilding in this bedraggled neighborhood, where FEMA trailers and desolate, empty houses waiting for their owners to return are more the norm than the exception.
For two days, we would be cooking at The Goin' Home CafÃ©, a relief site operated by Emergency Communities, a nonprofit organization founded by Mark Weiner, a 2004 graduate of Columbia University.
Open since January, Goin' Home offers three meals a day to the neighborhood, as well as free laundry services, computer access, house gutting and most recently, a summer camp.
Upon arrival, we are greeted by a huge heap of garbage bags in the alley, a common sight given that services such as garbage collection have remained spotty and infrequent since the storm. We walk through the backyard on wooden planks above the ground, which remains mucky and untouchable; on the left is a huge refrigerated truck, on the right is a double-wide trailer housing EC volunteers. The dish station is open air, with a wooden roof and a tarp covering to keep out the rain. And the kitchen, which cranks out 400-500 servings per day, is also wooden and rustic. Think war zone.
Tomorrow: The details on cooking four meals in 36 hours for 300-some people. Stay tuned.
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