New Orleans is slowly recovering from Katrina, but the lives of six Eastern students who traveled to the city over Christmas break are permanently changed.
A student’s connection with the Red Cross allowed for an informal team to travel to the city and help participate in the most extensive disaster relief effort in the nation’s history.
“It looked like it just happened yesterday,” sophomore Kate Stone said. “We got down there and [for] miles and miles every single house on every single block was just destroyed. Communities are completely destroyed. It looked like a massive bombing.”
The students waded through the aftermath of Katrina helping to distribute food, cleaning supplies and tools. They drove through demolished neighborhoods in Red Cross emergency relief vehicles equipped with loud speakers, searching for people in need.
“They looked like ambulances or ice cream trucks,” Stone said. “We would say: ‘this is the Red Cross. We have hot meals. Are you hungry?’ And then they would nod and they’d come to our ice-cream truck-like window and we’d give them snacks, water and hot meals.”
Some days stretched to over twelve hours of exhausting work, but the students felt like their efforts were necessary.
“I think the work the Red Cross is doing is very important and I think in some small way we were a part of it,” senior Dan Leonard said. “I’d love to go back again.”
Leonard, Stone and their fellow students joined 233,000 “Red Crossers” in a coordinated effort that spanned the entire Gulf, a region demolished by storms in a year of intense weather.
According to the Red Cross, 2005 was a “worst case scenario” year for the United States, as 26 tropical storms and 13 hurricanes slammed the country. Yet the nation was remarkably generous in its relief efforts, and the Eastern community participated with donations, prayer and volunteer labor.
And according to sophomore Nick O’Ryon, Eastern was a major force in his decision to give up his Christmas break to help those in need.
“I definitely think Eastern has inspired me to get more involved in community service and justice issues,” he said. “I think the atmosphere at Eastern really helped motivate me to get involved.”