Monday, September 12, 2005

Please Help Katrina Victims...

New Orleans: the Big Easy, melting pot of the United States, and my hometown. An eclectic mix of cultures and lifestyles unknown to other cities, but its precious spirit is shared freely with locals and tourists alike. The famous seafood gumbo with mounds of shrimp, vegetables, and sizzling spices that give the soup its individuality can be compared to New Orleans itself. Musicians, portrait artists, chefs, street performers – they all enjoyed living in this charming port city along the Mississippi River.

The heart and soul of this rare place - its people – are now displaced across the country. Many will return home to find they have lost everything. Many will have a mound of red tape getting repairs completed in a timely manner. Sadly, many others may not return at all.

I can remember walking through the French Quarter on lazy Sunday afternoons, my friends and I laughing and enjoying the spring breeze. We always made sure to catch our favorite street performer: the guy on the 16-foot tall unicycle. It was hard to miss him, because he drew in the largest crowds. He did all kinds of acrobatics, he juggled flaming batons, he could even kick his own hat from his foot to land on top of his head – all while maintaining perfect balance on this funny-looking unicycle. Crowds would laugh, applaud, and continue their afternoons with a smile. He exuded what New Orleans was famous for – its people, sense of humor, and unique ways to bring smiles to people’s faces. So many people have had to pack up and start over in new cities, I don’t know if I will ever see his show again. I miss it all. Breezes on the river, black iron decor flanking the historic homes, and the sound of jazz in the air.

Katrina took the life and soul from my hometown on August 29. Many have fled New Orleans and won’t return. Many are displaced with relatives or friends and are trying to enjoy what time they do have with family. Many didn’t have anywhere to go – they either went to a hotel to live or they went to a shelter. Many of the shelters – areas that are supposed to be a comforting, safe refuge from the horrors of Katrina – only wound up being worse than standing in the middle of Katrina’s deadly eye.

You’ve probably heard some of the top news stories, but there are more and more personal stories that I am hearing every day. A ten-year-old boy who refuses to let go of his switchblade, because that is what protected his mom from being raped in a shelter. This child who should be playing baseball and enjoying the summer has now been forced to grow up over a period of a few days. Even though he is safe now and has made his way to be with relatives, that child will never be the same. I had the privilege of meeting him just yesterday.

The emotional and physical toll that Katrina took in her raging forces will take time to heal. But you can help. I'll be honest with you. For other disasters such as 9/11, I gladly opened my wallet to the firefighters and the other causes. But this time I need to do more. CNN is not just covering the top news stories; it's the devastation of my hometown. My roots.

All of us want a sense of purpose in our lives. To be part of something. Today, you get that chance. I would like to urge everyone to find the organization of your choice and please give what you can. I am not endorsing any specific organization for helping Katrina victims. There are many different organizations out there, and the ones I strongly believe in helping may not be your first choice. That’s fine – I’m just saying find one that works for you.

If you can’t or don’t choose to give financially, find groups that you can donate your time, talents, blood, or supplies to. Right now the displaced people from New Orleans need your help. We haven’t seen many natural disasters in our lifetime, at least not here in the United States. There have been tragedies, but we rebuild and we survive – because of the good spirited people who reach out and help.

As someone who grew up there, I want to thank you for any way you can help. New Orleans and the gulf coast will become bigger and better – with the help of caring individuals such as yourself. Thank you for taking the time to read through a mourning woman’s stories. Thank you for doing whatever you can to help. I hope that if you have never been to New Orleans, that you one day get to see its beauty and charm. She can do wonders for the soul. So can each of you that help right now.


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