Last night the temperature plummeted into the thirties. I wore my winter cap to bed and we toughed it out. I think there might have been some thought in my head about solidarity with those who are still living in tents down here. I have quickly gotten over that thought. With the temperature again in the thirties tonight I am blogging from the comfort of Vlad's guest room, occasionally visited by one of his three cats.
Today we worked at the Salvation Army warehouse. The crew consisted of Diane (the 80 year old) Rossana, me and a girl I call princess. Princess worked with us on distribution but couldn't take our aggressive loading style. She wouldn't walk the 10 feet to the back of a car insisting that the car would pull up to the toiletries station anyway and she could load juice there. She didn't seem to grasp that some people didn't need toiletries or cleaning supplies and by loading all the food at once we saved valuable time. Every second we saved got more people through the line and more aid distributed. She wandered off and took an hour coffee break, and then lunch.
When we arrived at the site (a former oyster company)we were amazed by the sophistication of the operation. There must have been three mobile command stations, 6 distribution units, a dozen vans, satelite uplink. The photo can't capture it all since it was so spread out over the complex.
We were whisked into an office, photographed and issued I.D. tags and a Salvation Army sweater. We then entered the warehouse which was a hive of activity. The space was split into two areas.
This is the outgoing food room. These are the boxes of non perishable foods that we handed out the other day.
The other section was where donated goods were housed, broken up, sorted, assembled into kits and otherwise moved through the system. We were introduced to Max, or rather he introduced himself in his own unique way. Looking a bit like a burned out roadie for the Rolling Stones Max sped up on a forklift, hopped out wearing jogging pants with shorts on top and a blue hospital gown over his Salvation Army outfit. He introduced himself, shook out hands and got us right to work. We were assembling comfort kits from donated goods and we needed to fill five massive boxes before lunch.
"We feed and clothe about 4000 each day."
We got to it as best we could. The donated goods were of widely different sizes and while we had plenty of some things like Shampoo we were short of razors. We worked fast and I'm not sure why we didn't make two different kinds of kits, one for men and one for women. Some guy in a distribution line is going to get several tampons which will be of little use to him. I worked unboxing donations and sorting them into different spots on our assembly line. We worked along side several SA employees and a few other volunteers. One of them was Ron.
Ron was a marine in Vietnam, a 35 year veteran of the Fire department, a regular volunteer with the SA and had worked in Waveland, the worst hit area in Mississippi shortly after the hurricanes. He is also a yammering ass. His mouth was constantly open and noise was coming out of it. He was constantly making comments to the women and saying generally annoying or dumb things. I could tell he was annoying Rossana as well but she said nothing. We were eventually send to another section of the warehouse to help organize loose donations onto palates and move them out of the way for expected food deliveries. It was like taking the contents to 20 thrift stores and trying to sort them into something that made sense. Ron was moving finished loads with the pallet jack and was thus, slightly less annoying. We were about a third of the way through this grueling process when lunch was served (Ribs!) in a small break room. Ron was back to yacking again. He had just mentioned how Arnold Schwarzenegger would make a great president when I left the room to take some pics of the warehouse. When I came back in it was very quiet and Rossana and a group of women were heading out the door to the parking lot. I followed.
"Honey, did you lay the smack down on the Marine?" I asked.
"The asshole needed to good slapping."
At this point I wasn't sure if she meant that literally or not.
"Did you leave any marks? Is he still able to stand?"
"I didn't kick the crap out of him if that's what you're asking. He just got on my last nerve" the other women were nodding. He's been making cutsey comments at them all damn morning.
"What did you say?"
"Carol here was complaining of a headache and I told her I was getting one two. And when Mr Man guy started to open his mouth I told him that I would going to get Carol some aspirin and a roll of duct tape for him if he didn't shut up."
The rest of the day Ron was more civil. He and I were eventually sent to work for 'The Major' (remember these people think of themselves as an army) to move some desks over at Yankee Stadium. On the way over he informed us that their clinic had been shut down by FEMA and the Red Cross. They refused to give an official reason but said that if the clinic didn't shut down the SA would have to leave the area entirely. Once the clinic was gone the Red Cross apparently made an announcement that there was a great need for a clinic in the area and opened one at the Community Center.
Outside the stadium area a large semi-permanent hanger like structure has been erected. This houses a distribution area for clothes, baby needs and formerly the clinic as well an an open area and pulpit with seating for maybe 200 for church services. The back third of the building has offices and we spent a few hours moving desks that I swear were composed of lead. I was pleased to see that these were donated desks, bookshelves and file cabinets. No blatant spending on lavish office goods. The Major, who never seemed to be around during the lifting portions would keep finding other tasks for us to do. We got back to the warehouse at about three and helped finish out the last of the sorting. By this time Rossana had taken to just telling the other what to do and the results were than the unruly pile of misc goods were now sorted, plastic wrapped and cleared out to make room.
Having undergone this experience, here are a few helpful hints in case you ever want to donate items after a disaster. Buy a whole box or case of the item, not just a dozen. If the box doesn't lists its contents, write what it is on the top and sides. Don't send sample sizes. If you send toothbrushes, make sure they are in individual packages. Cut bulk pakages of soap into individual bars. This makes sorting and distribution a lot easier.
Princess stayed at it all day although she primarily moved stacks of Styrofoam bowls and serving boxes. I honestly wonder what she is doing here. She flew in from Southern California but doesn't strike me as an ardent do gooder. It's like she's here to fulfill some kind of obligation. Maybe her dad told her she'd get a car if she did this. I don't know. I could be completely wrong about her.
Driving back to base my eyelids were heavy from lack of sleep and from the fast paced work today. We drove by the destroyed and damaged homes and businesses with hardly a second glance. By now it has strangely started to look normal. I suppose that's what is needed to live in this environment. You need to look past the vast scope of the damage and focus on accomplishing one thing at a time. Solving one problem, removing one tree, cleaning one house, getting one person a jacket and a blanket. Repeat as necessary.