We got over there, and before we could take our stuff in we had to wait for... a truck & trailer hauling furniture out. Turns out that various organizations are “placing” families in houses & apartments in the region, and (at least) this shelter is simply a whistle stop on the railroad. Good thing, because more are coming in next week; rumor has it that the next group of evacuees includes Vietnamese fishing families (which I remember being a point of ethnic tension the summer of 1980 that I spent in Biloxi). It’s kind of strange: we’re going to have new neighbors of ethnic groups heretofore unknown in “these here parts,” and it almost seems like they’re depopulating the coastal region — given the long-term environmental effects of flooding hitting all those toxic sites in Louisiana, that's probably for the best. I plan to avoid Gulf seafood for... pretty much the rest of my life.
But I digress. Later in the evening, I went back and signed up for a shift at the shelter, offering to do whatever was needed. It was a very educational experience. Some of the things I learned, in no particular order:
- If this shelter is typical, they’re getting overwhelmed by the amount of material pouring in. The first part of my evening was spent tossing bags of clothes (including some I recognized) onto a mountain of stuff to sort through later. There are also two semi-trailers parked at their loading dock, literally packed with bags of clothes. In another part of the shelter, they have clothes that have been sorted through on long rows and racks, in a size to rival some department stores. It’s very likely they don’t need any more clothes.
- There is a list of things they need, but it changes from day to day. If you want to donate material, and you want your contribution to be of immediate use, bring things they want (don’t trust yesterday’s list though!) and mark them. Those things (diapers, I can almost guarantee being one of them) will be whisked into the distribution.
- Don’t expect a well-oiled machine. Nearly all the people at the shelter, including those running the show, have maybe a few days more experience than you do on your first night. If you’re willing to do whatever needs to be done, you’ll stay busy for as long as you want to be there. Ask for directions, someone will point you the right way.
- At this particular shelter, they need volunteers most between 9–11 a.m. and 9–11 p.m. I suspect that the evening shift is going to be pretty universal, because people are helping the families settle down for the night & get their kids to sleep.
- Just don’t donate used underwear. Period. I guess anyone intelligent enough to read Tales from FAR Manor has enough sense to know this, but I’d have thought anyone with a room-temperature IQ (in Celsius) would know it. Lordy.
- Volunteering at your local shelter is worth the effort, even if you don’t interact with (or even see) the people you’re helping. Stuff needs to be done, just go do it.
I’ll be going back as often as I can in the next week.