Friday, September 30, 2005

Why I'm a 4-H Volunteer

This is National 4-H week, when we traditionally recognize our volunteers. People typically assume that I volunteer because I'm such a generous person. My actual reasons are much more self-serving. I am a person who is easily bored, who is nosey enough to want to know everyone in my community, not just those who are like myself. I hunger to meet smart people, and I want to be privy to the latest research. I don't have a lot of time, so I want my time as a volunteer to be respected. I want to be respected, as more than just a mom who deals cards.

4-H is uniformly supportive of its volunteers. 4-H volunteers can offer as much or as little time as they want. We are provided with the latest research on children’s issues. The 4-H office helps with the big things (like liability insurance) and the little things (like notifying club members when I was too sick to hold a meeting, or even to talk on the phone.)

4-H volunteers are respected members of the community. Our 4-H Extension agent simply will not allow her volunteers to be anything less, or to be treated as anything less. She is available to listen to problems, offer solutions, or to discuss issues directly with parents. I am free to offer the benefits of Chess Club to all interested kids, not just the well-behaved ones.

4-H doesn't waste my time with the last decade's agenda; 4-H is continually seeking to ask and answer the question: What Do Kids Need Now?

We challenge ourselves to identify and fill in the gaps. It may be on an individual basis; I will bring in art supplies for a second grader who needs to draw to get over the stress of a challenging chess game.

County-wide, we ask the same question, creating a program of swimming instruction or writing grants to fund quality child care for low-income families.

No other organization has the latitude and mission to ask and answer this critical question.

Working as a 4-H volunteer has kept me sane when my paying job seemed bent on driving me crazy. As the mother of three girls, I love how 4-H keeps me in touch with the energetic and entertaining world of boys. 4-H volunteers are among the most interesting nd forward thinking people around. The fact that the program is open to all kids means that I meet a lot of people that would otherwise pass me by.

Monday, September 19, 2005

More Adults

This guy couldn't be president because he really wanted to be president? Because he really went to Vietnam? Because he windsurfed?
Americans can and will help compensate for government's incompetence with millions of acts of individual enterprise and charity, as Katrina has shown. But that's not enough. We must ask tough questions: Will this generosity and compassion last in the absence of strong leadership? Will this Administration only ask for sacrifice in a time of crisis? Has dishonesty in politics degraded our national character to the point that we feel our dues have been paid as citizens with a one-time donation to the Red Cross?

Today, let's you and I acknowledge what's really going on in this country. The truth is that this week, as a result of Katrina, many children languishing in shelters are getting vaccinations for the first time. Thousands of adults are seeing a doctor after going without a check-up for years. Illnesses lingering long before Katrina will be treated by a healthcare system that just weeks ago was indifferent, and will soon be indifferent again.

For the rest of the year this nation silently tolerates the injustice of 11 million children and over 30 million adults in desperate need of healthcare. We tolerate a chasm of race and class some would rather pretend does not exist. And ironically, right in the middle of this crisis the Administration quietly admitted that since they took office, six million of our fellow citizens have fallen into poverty. That's over five times the evacuated population of New Orleans. Their plight is no less tragic - no less worthy of our compassion and attention. We must demand something simple and humane: healthcare for all those in need - in all years at all times.

I worked the hurricane relief trailer yesterday and today dropped off eggs, vegetables, and dog food at a sick co-worker's because I know he's out of sick pay. No lights, no fanfare, just doing what needs to be done. Hurricane relief was all about eye contact; say hi to everyone you know and see if they stop and chat and maybe donate, or if they just say hi and keep walking. My favorite were the people who stopped on their way into the store, asked what was needed, and then bought it. I never demanded much, maybe an extra box of cereal or some Tylenol or diapers. It all adds up.

Oddly enough, people kept thanking me. For what? I sat outside of the grocery store on a beautiful September day and packed boxes while chatting with people. I felt guilty at spending a pleasant afternoon while others are struggling to put their lives back together.

The relief effort has gotten much press, in Detroit Free Press and the Leelanau Enterprise. The concept is simple, based on a reaction to news reportsof the New Orleans diaspora. Two people who owned trailers saw the potential for providing immediate help by simply parking their trailers next to the local groceries , collecting donated food and supplies, and then driving south to where people were hungry. The plan was simplified somewhat when International Aid of Spring Lake, Michigan agreed to take our county's donations into their very efficient system. Our donated food was in the mouths of hungry people in Mississippi a mere 36 hours after the trailers left the county. When the need was most urgent, trailers were filled as fast ans they could return. In three weeks we have sent out about 40 tons of supplies.

Yesterday was the last day, for now, as it seems that more traditional ways of feeding people have finally kicked in. I saw my trailer of yesterday at Van's garage today; the driver was filling up with gas. They will take this last run directly to Louisiana, where they will meet up with the Veterans For Peace group working in Covington. God speed.

Mortal Jive, the poet dreamer, describes a similar relief road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Adult Situations

I'm back in the amen corner today; I can't write anything more appropriate than what I've just read.

Remember when Bush won the first time? He beat Al Gore, about whom people complained that he was too stiff, too boring. Lately I've been looking at the mess we're in and thinking that we need someone who knows how to get things done, no fanfare, just an honest day's work. "Fifty years old, and I'm still screwing nuts on bolts," was how poet Gary Snyder put it, the business of being a grownup. Whenever I see "adult situations" in a movie review, I think "Oh, they must be worrying about how to pay the bills," because that's what adults do.

Here is a link to an adult situation: Al Gore discusses Katrina and the challenge of global climate change.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina Theories

I am listing the various attempts to find a higher purpose for Hurricane Katrina.

God's judgement for gay marriage, Israel's Gaza pullout, etc.

Russian Weather Engineering (the proof is in the cloud photos)

New Orleans was a Sin-Filled City This one has (already) an entry in Urban Legends.

Revenge of the Fetus (once again, it's in the clouds)

And a first hand account from our friend Doug, the FEMA worker now deployed to Mississippi, who tells us that folks on the street think that the government broke the levees on purpose to get rid of poor black people.

This is a classic case of the law of karma, or what the Torah warns of environmental disaster unless we create a just society. Oddly enough, while the fundamentalist Christians have been telling us that God works in "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" fashion, here we have a rabbi reminding us of Christ's warning that "Whatever you neglected to do unto one of these least of these, you neglected to do unto Me!"

Friday, September 09, 2005

Hurricane Blogs

I have been reading a lot of news lately, trying to make sense of things. I also read my casino dealer bulletin board, where we have people from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast trading stories and information. Here are a few blogs from people in the disaster area:

The Otter Side is written by a physician from Georgia with military background, currently in New Orleans, trying to help people. He writes:
Looked at almost all Cops in precinct. Several had chemical burns on feet. They say "The Water" so you can hear the capital letters. "Black, green, and stinks like hell." Several were obviously worried about catching something. Wouldn't ask about it unless private.

Met a local MD. What a cowboy! He commandeered a white hearse from a funeral home, put red crosses on hood, doors, and liftgate with house paint from Home Depot.. "Riding forth to stave off death and disease!" Wouldn't shake hands "because of the epidemic." I asked what had gone epidemic. "I don't know yet, but it's coming soon." A character straight out of M*A*S*H.

Spirits are better--a shipment of ground beef & chicken breasts arrived from ATL. Big, big cop pulled out major-league smoker they use at Mardi Gras. Everyone was eating burgers and looked less careworn. Their #1 request? One night's sleep.

I can see now the significance of Jesus's washing feet. Foot care is a very profound way to show caring. It says "I care enough to touch these moist, stinky things for your benefit."

Eye of the Storm is a day to day blog written by a couple of journalists wandering the Biloxi-Gulfport area with camers. Josh writes an open letter to Michael Moore:
My name is Josh Norman. I am a reporter with the SunHerald of Biloxi, Mississippi. Last Sunday and Monday, I was in Biloxi when the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over my head as a category 4.It was terrifying.Immediately after the storm, I went out and reported on the disaster. I met families destroyed, saw neighborhoods reduced to their concrete foundations, smelled death and dispair and heard the disbelief roll off of everyone's toungue. Disaster, perhaps, is therefore not strong enough of a word.What will be a disaster is a divided and bickering nation.I appreciate your work, Mr. Moore. I understand your viewpoint.I have voted democrat across the board since I started voting ten years ago. I could very easily be described as a liberal too...I was in the Peace Corps for Christ's sake.But I do not feel that now is the time to berate Bush. Now is not the time to bring him down a peg. He may be pathetic, he may be barely able to actually help, but any help he can get down this way is desperately needed. By causing him to divert energies to defend his frequently spotty record people who attack him are diverting his energies away from here.And, I feel like you and others who attack him are diverting your energies away from here too.This disaster is about people. It's about the mother who came home from work and found her baby and husband had drowned in her living room. It's about the casino janitor who came home and found his daughter's baby photos missing - his house had been reduced to a slab - much the same way Hurricane Camille had done to his baby photos.It's about the firemen who had to swim out of their fire station, had their homes leveled, and are still working 20-hour days, 7 days a week.We need help here. Now. Listening to the political bashing, frankly, makes me concerned. I know Bush did wrong. I know there was a major fuck up. Now is not the time for finding of what that fuck up was.Have you spent as much time helping the people of South Mississippi and Louisiana get clothing, medicine, food and water as you have figuring out what Bush did wrong?-Josh

Leelanau County still labors to provide hurricane relief. Amazingly, when a trailer goes out full of food and supplies, that food is in people's mouths within 36 hours. They have stopped asking for clothing because food is the number one need. People, still, are hungry, waiting for what we send. You can find up to date information on the Leelanau/Grand Traverse County Hurricane Relief Effort website.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Old Pictures

Mostly from Liz's sith grade field trip to Mackinac Island.

Hurricane Week

One Tuesday, when I last wrote, we were going blueberry picking. The hurricane had passed through New Orleans and the city was picking up. Tuesday night, having found few blueberries, we went down to Mike's farm to get the rest of the blackberries. Mike's TV is on all day and all night; that's how we found out the levees had broken and the city was awash.

Wednesday at work was the first time I watched the news channels, just in time to see the looters on film. My first thought was that those people should be shot, not for stealing, but for so stupidly stealing the wrong stuff. Plasma TVs? Clearly no one on the ground had much perspective on the size and scope of this disaster, where starvation, malaria, and typhoid were lurking around the next bend and there was not likely to be a live outlet for months.

A friend's daughter, a recent college graduate, was living in New Orleans and called her mom to say "everything's fine" after the hurricane went through on Monday. After the levees broke there was no word from her until Saturday when she got out. I got this email today:
Thanks everybody for your prayers for Jessica Carroll stuck in New Orleans, and her family. I've rec'd several emails asking about her.... She was able to get out late Saturday nite. A small group of her neighbors (including a retired fireman) were able to hike out to a vehicle stashed on high ground before the storm. They put boards on trolley tracks and drove a little, moved the boards, drove a little more, and were able to get to the highway where the National Guard told them to turn back. Apparently they were not letting people out under their own power. Their vehicle joined with some NBC vehicles and broke through the road block (!) and were able to get to Mississippi about 11:00 p.m. (where our Leelanau County food is being delivered). Sounds like it was a horrendous journey. She's now made it to Baton Rouge and is with her sister who brought her clothes, etc. They will be making their way to Chicago soon. She was able to get out with her 14-year-old cat in a back pack, some photos, and her toothbrush.

So many questions about this short narrative. Why were cell phone communications knocked out and why weren't they restored sooner? Turn back? How? Why? After the week that was, do they really expect people to trust the authorities to take care of them?

On Thursday there was a horse trailer set up outside Hansen's grocery taking donations of food, clothing, and household goods for hurricane victims. Anna was excited when I put pop-top cans of spaghetti into our cart, but I told them they weren't for us. I also bought a can of Similac, being sure to explain to Anna that mothers who had chosen to breast feed would not have to worry about finding clean bottles, formula, or clean water to mix it with.

The horse trailer was a local spontaneous effort. People bought extra groceries and brought clothing from home. Others stayed for hours to sort and box items. On Friday the trailer left for the International Aid warehouse in Spring Lake, Michigan. By Sunday noon, food was in the mouths of hungry people in Mississippi. The trailer is back at Hansen's, with another at the Leelanau Enterprise building, and another at Plantmasters.

On the news today, it's all about who should have done what. Meanwhile I am looking at the gas prices and anticipating a hard winter, at least financially. The kids started back to school today, so it is time to start canning tomatoes, peaches, and pears.