Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Barbara, Babies, and the Astrodome

Is it up to me to defend former First Lady Barbara Bush? She made comments about the displaced persons in the Houston Astrodome wanting to stay. She also said that they were underprivileged.

I wonder about the context of these comments, both on the NPR interview and in her conversations with the displaced persons. Could she be talking about the offers of jobs, schools, and housing? Could she be saying that these people have little safety net to fall back on, and that the people of Houston provided a safety net? Could she be comparing the Astrodome to the Superdome? Why is it OK to say that they are poor, when talking about their lack of transportation to evacuate New Orleans, but not OK to mention that same poverty when they reach Houston?

Some on the Left are so desperate to label the President as uncaring that they will do it by proxy, through his mother.

Let us not forget that Barbara Bush was memorably one of the first public figures to embrace babies who were infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Let us also not forget her work with literacy.

Finally, Gene Allen has a report from the Astrodome by his former law colleague, Jim Lodoen. The notion that things are much better in Houston than in the New Orleans Superdome or Convention Center for the relocated people is not particularly far-fetched:

Monday, September 5, 2005

I am sitting in my hotel room Monday evening and thought I would share my day in Houston with you.

I arrived in Houston on Sunday with $3,695 dollars of contributions from almost 55 of the L&V family. Monday morning I arrived at the Astrodome complex with 50 Target cards in $50 and $100 amounts. The complex also includes Reliant Center and Reliant Stadium. They are housing a total of 30,000 from New Orleans.

I signed up as a volunteer and spent the day on the floor of the Reliant Center with the guests from New Orleans. I was overwhelmed with the love, faith, determination and compassion shared by all. My row of volunteers was called to monitor the shower facilities, pass out towels, etc. However, the volunteer coordinator who himself is a refugee from New Orleans, directed me and another guy to "monitor" the the other volunteers tending the showers. He thought it would be good if we could spend most our time visiting with the "guests" so I spent 5 minutes an hour monitoring the volunteers (really a non-job) and the rest of the time sitting on cots and talking with the guests.

The people are comfortable and the Houston operation is very well organized. A lot of food is available although the selection is not too extensive at the moment, and doesn't work for special diets. Free stores stocked with clothing, personal items and games are well stocked. Social Security, FEMA, Job Service, etc. are all in place and helping people. Volunteers are on laptops helping people find family and friends. People are very secure with police everywhere. Children who were almost dead from dehydration when they arrived in Houston have been rehydrated and are running around and having fun with everyone else. Many of the families felt very threatened when the were in the Superdome in New Orleans. People were shooting, rape was occurring, some received no or minimal water and food, etc. While most saw bodies throughout the city, I think they believe the most difficult scenes were at the Superdome. Interestingly, I heard not one complaint but only gratefulness for what was done everywhere. In fact one family spent their first four days in the stadium seats at the Astrodome after arriving in Houston because the cots on the floor were full. They slept in the stadium seats. I said, "That must have been terrible." She said, "No, it was o.k. I was just grateful to have food, air conditioning, lights and a roof over us."

I cannot begin to share all the stories with you. Everyone to a person that I spoke with first and foremost praised God for protecting them. Everyone I approached was anxious to share his or her story. They all are extremely grateful for the people of Houston for opening their city, for the support from around the nation, and are just thankful to be alive. Many are still waiting to hear from other family members (mostly older aunts, uncles, parents, etc.) but were receiving good news regarding many of them. Some ended up on buses to different cities and were in the process of being reunited. One husband/wife with 4 kids had both been working two jobs to buy their first house. The closed on Friday and stayed at the house that evening, moved in on Saturday, waited out the storm on Sunday and evacuated on Monday. They were grateful for the two days they had in their home. The father shared that all he does in life is about and for his family, and he needed to get them out. (His wife took me aside and shared that he is thinking that he did not do as much as he should have to protect his family so when he and I spoke I was able to give him a big pat on the back for saving his family, etc.) They left the house hand in hand with the two youngest on he and his wife's shoulders and walked through blocks and blocks of water up to their necks to a bridge where they waited for buses. As they were walking one daughter screamed as the looked over and say a little baby that had died floating down the street. Their house is history. They hope their children forget the scenes. They left her father with emphysema behind in the house, and their uncle assisted them to safety. Their uncle then went back to get her father (his brother). They do not know if they survived.

The volunteer coordinator used his truck to make round drips to take 200 people to safety. It ran out of gas just has he was delivering the last bunch to the Superdome. He lost his house, the bar he owned and his truck. But he was upbeat because he is a licensed plumber and electrician and he has the skills to work and rebuild. He said many do not. Many of the families he saved have been coming up to him and thanking him. I gave him several cards to distribute to the families he knows are in need of the most help.

Another family included a 60 year old dad, his several kids and grandkids, totaling 10 adults and twice as many children. The shared about 30 cots This family lived in assistance housing and the 60 year old dad rescued about 200 from the housing project before he left. He was ripping the doors off refrigerators and putting them in the water to use as boats. I gave them several cards.

Another mother along with her four young children and her mom spent 2 full days on a bridge before they were rescued. Many others were rescued by helicopters. Lots of the folks had left their homes when the warnings came only to move into motels/hotels that were later evacuated.

After I talked with folks for 10-15 minutes I then gave them the Target cards that I explained were from my colleagues from Minneapolis who wanted to help. They responded with smiles, tears, hugs, prayers and extreme gratefulness. They will use them to buy pillows for their children, larger size clothing that is unavailable, underwear, food to meet special dietary needs, and lots of other things.

One older gentleman was by himself reading his Bible. He was a pot scrubber at the Inter-Continental Hotel in New Orleans. He was very bright but seemed to have some type of disorder. He was so excited that he got connected to the same hotel in Houston and they probably have a job for him. He said he had always thought that if he transferred he would like to transfer to Houston. I asked what the most difficult part of him being here was and he said that he was unable to find a nail clipper/file. I told him a promised that before I went hope I would get a nail clipper for him. I spent a half hour (the women volunteers left their purses behind) and finally found a male volunteer who had a nail clipper. When I delivered it to this gentleman it was as if I had delivered him $1,000. So, you see, everyone has their needs and wishes.

One older woman was there with her sister. Her only son was killed a few years ago and she was divorced a couple of years before that. She lives by herself but is close to her sister. When trouble strikes they get together. This women is in a wheel chair and has severe back problems. She was rescued by a helicopter along with her sister, and they were dropped in a large field outside of town. She shared all the blessings of her rescue, the fire department getting the field lit up just as darkness was setting in so it seemed like a new day, etc. Finally, as she saw a string of old school buses coming by to pick the people up she realized that she couldn't ride in one of those seats with her back condition. So she prayed that God would send her a Greyhound bus with nice seats and air conditioning. A few minutes later two such buses came along. She got on one but her sister didn't make it. Again she prayed and through a series of events her sister also got on and their cots are together in Reliant Center. Her sister will push her in her wheel chair the two blocks to Target. She says the hurricane is Gods way of building faith in His people and in providing opportunities for others to serve their brothers and sisters in love. It all makes sense to her! She shared many tears of joy as she told me her story and even more after I gave her one of my last cards.

These people have lost all material possessions, their jobs, many friends and perhaps some family, and have no idea what tomorrow holds. Yet they are grateful for this day and for the many blessings they have received and are receiving from people like you. Our challenge is to live as well! It is also to help them by contributing through whatever organization we choose. And we need to keep doing it because needs will exist long after the media is on to something else.

I hope to make it back to volunteer one more time--probably the late evening early morning shift Tuesday evening. As I mentioned earlier, Gretchen will let me know if any additional contributions are made on Tuesday and I will buy additional Target cards to distribute.


UPDATE (9/15):

Welcome Powerline readers. To see the other two posts from Jim Lodoen, click here and scroll down through three or four posts.


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