Thursday, September 15, 2005

My 5 Hours at Reliant Center

(Rachel) On Saturday I volunteered with the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts at the Astrodome with 10 other people from Deloitte. I was a little apprehensive about doing this because assisting with natural disasters is a new experience for me. However, I knew that thousands of volunteers were needed to run the small community of evacuees, and they needed my help too. Human resources were needed; specifically, people patrolling the buildings, serving foods, data entry, and councilors.

I pulled into the huge parking lot and was escorted by signs and police officers (who confirmed that I was a volunteer and not a spectator). Dozens of volunteers were arriving with me and we were all heading to a big grey building run by the Red Cross. Everything was very organized. They checked my ID, I signed in, and I followed a crowd to a 20 minute orientation. At orientation two rules stuck out in my mind: “do not pick up any children” and “do not take any pictures” (it is their home and you wouldn’t want strangers coming into your home and taking pictures of you). After orientation I joined about 150 people in a line to wait for an assignment. Finally, they sent us all to what they called “distribution.”

We were lead through “Reliant City” (aka Reliant Center) to a large hollow building where people were sleeping, eating, and playing. Beds were set up in rows. Some were occupied by people trying to sleep; others were occupied by mothers and their children.

Finally we came to our assignment. It was an area sectioned off as a makeshift cafeteria. They stationed me at the milk and juice cooler and I was responsible for keeping it well stocked and handing drinks to anyone who asked. I was happy to see that the milk and juice were popular with the cute little kids. They would come up and ask for 3 or 4 at a time and then barely be able to carry them back to their table. I was impressed by the system that Red Cross and Aramark had created. They served two hot meals a day (in 3 hour increments) and they had a variety of snacks and drinks served 24/7. I figured that the dinner would be something simple and bland like meat and potatoes, but to my surprise, they were serving sweet and sour chicken, rice, and steamed vegetables. I stayed until 6:30pm and was replaced by two nice high school girls.

My overall impression was that there are a lot of truly caring people in the US. Volunteers came from all over the US to do what they could for the people displaced by the storm. For me it was a convenient 5 miles away. Red Cross is doing it’s best to provide those in need with food and shelter (and a little spending money). I’m glad that there is someone to pick up the slack and take care of all the people who lost their homes in New Orleans.

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