Fighting Poverty with Passion
Hurricane Isaac has come and gone, but in its wake it gave me much to think about. During and shortly after the storm some of my fellow VISTAs went to help out in the 311 call center, I stayed behind to catch up on some reading and to admire that unique calm that storms can bring. As a VISTA I know that I should serve my community whenever possible, but that week I definitely needed some alone time.
Looking out my bedroom window the morning the storm hit, I wondered what would have happened to me if this storm had been a Category 3 or higher. I’m visually disabled, so I would not have been able to hop in a car and head out. In all likelihood I would have ridden out of New Orleans with a friend. However, my mind lingered on the thought that there were many people in New Orleans who have no way to get out if this storm had been much stronger than it was. Before falling asleep, I made a promise to myself that in time I would become a stronger advocate for people with disabilities. No one should have to die in a hurricane because they could get out of the city on their own.
The weekend after the storm five of my best friends from Texas came down to visit me for the Labor Day weekend. They had already planned to come over in advance, but once it became obvious that Isaac would hit New Orleans, they began to talk about pulling out of the trip. Fortunately, after some last minute planning, they were convinced that it would still be worth it to come down. , but were very hesitant to do so once it seemed that the hurricane would hit New Orleans. This was the first time that all six of us would be together for a long time, so it meant a lot to me that they would be coming down. Needless to say we had a great time with one or two mishaps here and there. However, it hit me how differently I understand poverty in comparison to some of my friends. Having befriended several bartenders here in New Orleans, I have come to understand how difficult it is to sustain a living here when most of your income comes from your meager bartender’s salary and tips. With that in mind it took me by surprise that three of my friends do not tip bartenders. During our last night together, a bartender had called them out on it. I was so embarrassed. Granted, one of these six in the past had called back a girl at a Sonic in Austin after she realized that she had not gotten back two cents worth in change. But what sticks with me the most was that on our way back to my place, the three of them were trying to justify why you do not have to tip bartenders. The other two in the group and I walked behind them, saying nothing about how wrong they were because by that point we knew that they were too tipsy to realize how rude they had been. But that night I decided to make it my own personal mission to call my family members and friends out when I see that they haven’t tipped their waiter or bartender.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, many of our members not only lost food but much of their income as well. In general the LFCL serves people who do not have steady income. Many of them heavily depend on the $400 they make per week. Moreover, once Hurricane Isaac had finally cleared out, Latino media outlets began to spread the news that people could apply for D-SNAP, which basically meant that those who were approved would get a month’s worth of food stamps. While we were certainly happy to help out our members fill out their D-SNAP applications, we did not anticipate that several non-members would show up. And while some of them became members, other demonstrated the same characteristics that I found annoying of the people I grew up with back home in South Texas. Now there is nothing wrong with seeking help, but when you are told three times in a row that you cannot be helped because our services are only for members and even then you insist that your friend or so-and-so radio said we could help you, well, then I have no more patience for you. I tried not be rude, but that week after Hurricane Isaac there were many times I wanted to just hang up and not answer the phone for the rest of the day. I do not know where it comes from, but it has always bothered me to see or hear of people who try to bend the rules for their benefit. The old colonial saying of “I obey but I do not comply” has unfortunately continued to be a way of life for some of my fellow Latinos, and that saddens me. And while I do wish that the LFCL could help everyone that comes into our office, rules are rules. We depend on the membership fee, which is $25, to keep the cooperative running, and it would be a slap in the face of our members if we had allowed everyone to come in and fill out their D-SNAP applications.
These past eight weeks have gone by so quickly. In the upcoming weeks I plan to take on more grant-writing opportunities, participate in some more webinars, and help in our community outreach project Operation AYUDA, which seeks to bring in as many canned goods as possible to give out at our food banks throughout October and November. We shall see how things progress.