The Forgotten Lower Ninth


A block of ravaged deserted homes in the Lower Ninth Ward taken by Katrina, still a common sight 22 months later. (Kim O'Donnel)

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.


Front entrance of Goin' Home Cafe. (Kim O'Donnel)

For two days, we would be cooking at The Goin' Home Café, 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.


Viviana and Erik hard at work at the open-air dish station (Kim O'Donnel)

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.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 5, 2007; 9:29 AM ET New Orleans
Previous: Cooking With Holy Angels | Next: Cookin' at the Goin' Home Cafe

Comments

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You are working in my hometown and I want to personally thank you. I grew up for my first 30 years in Metairie and will always call it home. The good people there are still suffering and food does help make it better. My extended family will probably never again get together for the holidays or a parade because so many are displaced around the country. It makes me sad every time I consider the losses. Thanks again.

Posted by: Falls Church | June 5, 2007 7:04 PM

I've just read through all your blog posts about NOLA, and am really touched (and also a bit shocked) -- thank you for reminding us that we *cannot* forget that there is still much needed there, despite the stories not being in the news every day. It is wonderful that you went down there and helped out.

Posted by: nicole | June 12, 2007 12:34 PM

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