Monday, January 15, 2007

Day Seven

Today we worked for Catholic Charities to demolish a building on their grounds that served as a food bank. The building had flooded, the stockpiles of food had molded long ago, and the time had come to create a clean slate. Click below to see the Transformers’ take on the day’s events.

Another French toast morning (we needed to use up our surplus of bread) came along pretty early, as we decided to get a quick start on our day because we knew we faced a huge challenge. We ventured a little west of our usual zone in the Ninth Ward to work on the grounds of St. Raymond Catholic Church and School. This property is also the staging area for volunteers who come from all over the country to be organized and trained to participate in relief work. Our Easter Break crew spent many early mornings in that parking lot as we sought our assignments day by day.

The plan for the day was to get as far as we could in clearing and gutting the building, in hopes of eventually leveling it so that the space could be better occupied by a safer storage/distribution space. They didn’t want to bulldoze the building, as they hoped to salvage lots of items out of it, including the wood siding on the exterior. Our contact at Catholic Charities thought it was unlikely that we would even manage to clear out all of the food and office equipment inside in one day’s time. Of course, knowing that a task seemed impossible made it even more appealing to all of us. We went into the day with an incredible level of determination to succeed.

When we arrived, our Catholic Charities hosts let us know that we might witness some protests in the neighborhood in honor of Martin Luther King Day. St. Raymond is very close to “the projects,” low-income housing that was damaged in the storm and that remains unoccupied 16 months later. Many locals are torn by the competing arguments about how to deal with this issue; some believe that more low-income housing must be made available immediately while others argue that the entire premise of government-sponsored housing should be rethought. The large complex stood empty, though it seemed to be in usable condition; we could see why families who had lived there before might wish to return.

We became even more aware of the desperate needs in the neighborhood when we began to address the rotting pile of surplus food inside the structure we were clearing. We had been asked to save any food that was still consumable, but we had trouble placing any of the food we found in that category. The pile was infested with mice and cockroaches, there was mold growing up the sides of the boxes in the storeroom, and even the canned goods were covered with rust. We consulted with one of the staff who finally made the call: ditch it all. We transferred the food from the storage space into the enormous trash pile that we were creating outside. As we did so, we were surprised to see residents of the neighborhood coming from all directions to see what they could glean from the pile. Where we had been certain that the goods were worthless, others apparently found them to be quite valuable.

Once we had emptied the space, our next job was to prep the house for demolition. We tore out every possible piece of drywall, baseboard, and trim, along with the toilet, plumbing, heating system, and anything else that would take us down to the skeleton of the place. Even before lunch, we had accomplished more than we (or Catholic Charities) thought possible.

After lunch, a crew went onto the roof to try to dismantle it. Justin, Shane, and Jed were in the first wave, while Julie, Aaron, Chris and Tim took up the second shift. By the time that the second shift took the roof, however, we had decided that it was going to take way too long to complete the demolition in this way. We all regrouped and strategized to figure out what to do next. We had three competing options: 1) continue our first strategy and go back onto the roof, 2) find a way to bring the house down by cutting the sides and letting it collapse, and 3) forget the whole idea and leave the skeletal structure for someone else to address.

We went around and around about which option was best, as we all recognized that each of the three options was appealing in its own way. As we began to move in the direction of #2, big black rain clouds rolled in and it began to sprinkle. Once we decided that the next step would have to be delayed – no matter what it was – we committed to returning on another day and finding a way to demolish the entire building once and for all. Depending upon the weather, that day might be tomorrow.

We headed home with a special treat planned for the end of the day: our first collective trip into the French Quarter in honor of our driver Dan’s last day with us (Dan flies out on Tuesday at the same time that our driver from last year, Leo, flies in). We took our time primping and getting our project work organized so that we could go into town without any responsibilities dangling over our heads.

We all started at CafĂ© DuMonde so that we could have a beignet or two, and then we split up: some went looking for a real dinner, some went after a bit of entertainment, and some went home to catch up on work or rest. The Transformers stayed home to edit their video for the day. No matter what choice each person made about how to spend the evening, we all got to be transported far away from the land of mold and mice and into the land of laughter and leisure. Our 11:00 curfew kept us from getting into any real trouble. A long but lovely day and a fitting end to our week with our good friend Dan. We welcome Leo’s arrival, but we will definitely miss Dan. Thanks for everything, Dan!

Armed with her hard hat, protective glasses, and face mask, Bree shows off her tough tenacity by saving the siding for another building.

Courtney shows her NOLA pride while dumping a bunch of a old sheet rock.

It’s dark and cloudy, but Justin excitedly prepares for the roof to come down.

Aaron offers Soraya some aspirin to alleviate the pain from her injury. The Oneder works hard, but injuries are just part of the job. Go Soraya!

Justin, Jed, and Shane give directions to the rest of the group from on top of the roof.

Emily Robbins wedges a crowbar between a nail and a stud. Even though it is meticulous, it pays off at the end of a hard day’s work.

Today everybody contributed to our enormous amount of work. We removed all of the trash, moldy food, and eventually the drywall from the entire house.

Tim Huey heaves remnants of sheet rock over a fence and into the dump pile to be hauled away. We salvaged what we could, however most of what we found was beyond saving.

Justin Verrips briefs the crew before strapping up and getting to work.

Although the attempt to take the roof off the house failed, everyone put in 100%. Here, Julie and Jed pull shingles off the roof so the Verrips brothers can saw and hammer out the plywood.

Getting the moldy food out of the house by far the worst job of the trip. You can see that it took everyone as a group to complete the task – you couldn’t imagine how many cockroaches and mice that came crawling out of those boxes.

The most eerie thing we found today was a chalkboard in the elementary school that had still remained untouched - as seen by the date (August 25, 2005) on the board. The irony was added by what else was left written on the board.

Here is a before pic of the storage house in all its glory – if only it knew that the SMC kids were coming for it!

A view from the rooftop of the house, you can see the elementary school to the left and the projects – to the right. Neither has been open since the storm. A protest was anticipated in reaction to the fact that the projects are still closed.

Here is the skeleton of the house that we left behind, it was hard work but we got it done!

After much sweat (and even a little blood) we were successfully able to strip down the entire building. This job could not have been accomplished without a full effort from everyone here!

We placed all of the debris from the building into a pile on the street. All of us were taken aback when local neighbors came by and started collecting the debris and tainted food for personal use.

Megan is hard at work shoveling out the stripped down ceiling.