December 1, 2005

McAfee School of Theology Mercer University

The Annual Meeting of the Regional Council was hosted by Dr. Alan Culpepper, Dean, McAfee School of Theology. Dr. Robert Franklin moderated a panel dicussion that included representatives from a wide range of organizations that have responded to the plight of Katrina evacuees in our area as well as a special guest from New Orleans whose office was destroyed by the storm. The panelists considered the question of what we have learned from the community's response to Katrina including comments about how the response to this disaster of unprecedented proportions has affected the organizations they represent and how it has affected them personally. The panelists offered opinions on how the response to Hurricane Katrina will inform decisions made in the future
about planning, limitations, and response to human need.

Tom Key
 of Theatrical Outfit spoke about the intersection of faith and art and presented an exciting and moving performance of his own work.

Select read more for a list of panelists and some of their comments. Directions to McAfee School of Theology
Orion article on the ecological roots of the disaster in New Orleans

Chris Allers brings the experience of United Way calling together the nonprofit community and the business world to determine how and where to help. Chris pointed out that ordinary citizens didn’t wait for a plan. They just responded to the need. We have learned a painful lesson in humility - a good deal about what actually can be done, and our limits. Nevertheless with each new challenge, the community has responded. We have had an extraordinary three months. The resilience of the community is remarkable. Most of the people who have found temporary homes are under the radar screen.

We found early on that there were large numbers of evacuees in Butts, Cherokee and Douglas Counties as well as the core counties. We are gratified by the work of local non-government organizations and churches. However, there is so much more to do – 3 –4 times as much as we have already. We need to stay optimistic. Especially because we have now gone through the easy part.Now it gets hard. We’re beginning to see helper fatigue and loss of capacity to effectively cope. Stories are both painful and remarkable. We are also seeing systemic issues – people are in limbo waiting for others to tell them to restart their lives. The next wave of casualties In need of care may be the caregivers themselves. Could lead to racism and bias.

An added systemic issue is that many people are being thrown out of public housing by eligibility requirements – this is an added underlying issue. FEMA and government policies and actions are being made up on the spot. They’ve never had to handle anything like this –policies have never been tested or tried out in the field. Learning is more painful and frustrating because we are in unknown territory. We won’t know whether what we are doing is right for months or years. The Cuban boat people crisis, which was somewhat like, this pales by comparison.

The easy part is behind us – How do we choose between serving the homeless who were already here and displaced people –everyone is important. We need to turn disaster into opportunity (to create new systems for doing this) but it’s a very hard job.

Bill Bolling and the Atlanta Community Food Bank
 are truly a loaves and fishes organization. They say "yes" to any organization aiding people displaced by Katrina. Bill pointed out that we are learning the limits of public sector response planning. We have seen both the best (Atlanta coming together) and the worst (major failures in federal planning and response – with some exceptions, such as USDA.These have been the best and worst of times. Worst - September is usually a planning time for ACFB everything was disrupted. Best – The community came together. Worst – the system didn’t work – How can we plan when we don’t know the numbers of survivors here. We’ve provided 750,000 pounds of extra food as a consequence of the hurricane mostly in Atlanta. The media didn’t do their job. Atlanta Community Food Bank has a good story – the community is responding, but some in the media aren’t telling it because this doesn’t fit with their story line.

What worked well? United Way called us together then took the courageous step of allocating $10 million over their budget to Katrina response. RCCA was not on the map as a first responder but stepped up and helped call the faith community together. Many have stepped up and these stories need to be told. The Community Foundation gave out of their comfort zones. Mayor Franklin stepped up and told the truth. –The corporate community needs to step up . DFCS and USDA did step up. USDA Undersecretary committed to replace the food we used for Katrina. Creative efforts to help have been made by musicians chefs and artists.

PICO National Network, New Orleans-Joseph Givens
 PICO is a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban, and rural communities. Joseph's office disappeared in the Katrina floods. Joe told the audience of his experience and stressed that 86% of the metro area of New Orleans is still uninhabitable- miles and miles of abandoned houses. Where ever the evacuees have landed their lives are in limbo. Payments are due on automobiles that no longer exist, mortgagues are due on houses that are gone.
Sister Joyce Ann Hertzig and Catholic Social Services exemplify the compassion and effectiveness of servant leadership within an organization from which we always see the best in people-loving, Christ-centered work.Sister Joyce Ann notes that the job is twofold – to help people in need and walk with them in hope.We are called on to work in new ways and to respond differently. There is a need to pray together and provide compassion and a listening ear. Open up to people’s stories - “how did you get here –How are you doing?” this is very special. We need both high tech and high touch to handle the great numbers of people in physical and spiritual need. We are learning about how many in New Orleans depend on large extended families and challenged to be flexible in helping them- to develop a new definition of family. As a result of Katrina we have had added meetings, service interruptions, have needed to rotate duties among staff – our volunteers needed more space. Although we saw people by appointment we never turned walk-ins away. No one person and no one program can handle this alone – we need each other more than ever.

Elizabeth Omilami
 speaks to the grass roots experience of Hosea Feed the Hungry which welcomed evacuees into it's tents (open on four sides like the tents of Father Abraham)- clothing, feeding, counseling, comforting. Elizabeth's organization, Hosea Feed the Hungry, is rapid response stuff providers. "They came to the door and we responded," she said. A challenge for the long term will be staving off donor fatigue. We need to learn to do a better job of networking with other organizations and funders.Hosea Feed the Hungry as a grass roots organization was able to respond immediately and with great flexibility to individuals and large family groups as well. Flexibility was an important characteristic of the group's response and enabled them to fill needs as they arose unhampered by strictures of larger organizations.

A Special Entertainment for the Regional Council of Churches Annual Meeting

Tom Key of Theatrical Outfit creator of the musical Cotton Patch Gospel and C.S. Lewis Onstage will speak about the union of faith and art and present an exciting and moving performance of his own work.