Saturday, May 24, 2014

Local Alabama paper describes heavy use of volunteers after tornado, and with homeless

The Tuscaloosa News (Alabama) Friday carried two stories about volunteerism that are both quite telling.

One of these stories  (by Lydia Seabol Avant) concerned the use of volunteers to build a homeless shelter , called the Jesus Way Shelter, organized by a group Project Blessings.  The religious beliefs (evangelical Christianity) aside, the use of volunteers in this “grab a hammer” effort to build a shelter is quite telling. The people who then live there are supervised and monitored, and this could of course seem controversial. The news story has good (copyrighted) indoor pictures of the shelter.

The bigger story (by Bayne Hughes)  concerned the use of volunteers to man a tornado relief center  (the more recent storm in April 2014, not the huge 2011 long tracking tornado) in Coxey, AL, run by the Clements Baptist Church. Apparently some volunteers traveled from other counties and lived there to help run the center. This is quite remarkable, and different from the effort to use volunteers to rebuild homes, as was done by Habitat for Humanity, the LDS church, and many other church groups after Hurricane Katrina. In that effort, many travelers were not allowed to work effectively because of safety, security, and mold problems.  Likewise, some protestant church groups organize volunteer efforts in Central America, especially for young people, with a lot of interpersonal contact which is a good thing, but risky and tricky to pull off. A church needs to know what it is doing to make it happen safely.  I wrote about this before in relation to an Anderson Cooper report about volunteerism in New Orleans after Katrina and attracted a most energetic and challenging comment, the "grab a hammer" posting on Aug. 29, 2007 on the TV Blog. 

In more well-off communities, people (often not socialized as much beyond their own families and immediate peers)  expect property insurance to take care of them.  In theory, one could take one's electronics and personal papers to a storm cellar, go to a hotel afterwards while insurance rebuilds.  Can this work with a massive disaster?  Most people in these areas were not well off.  What would happen after a massive disaster in an area that usually doesn't have them, more likely in the future with global warming?

The poverty in this area of the country, almost a half century after Selma, is remarkable.  Companies do not seem to like the area as much as they are drawn to other, now more socially progressive parts of the deep South.  The glitter of cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, and the high tech Research Triangle seem far away.  Local businesses are often not in good condition.  For people who don't work on farms and can't afford anything but processed food, obesity is more common than in more prosperous areas.  The Civil Rights and voting rights acts were a beginning but it takes a lot more.  

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