reprinted from the Coshocton(OH)Tribune
Pictured are Junior Foster, Amy Taylor and Russ Sternglass from Ithaca, N.Y. Russ and Amy are just enjoying a break, and a bit of sunshine, at Junior's before heading to the dump with a load of debris. Junior and his wife were able to get back into their home this year.
COSHOCTON -Amy Taylor of Coshocton spent a week in November volunteering in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
This was Taylor's second trip to the area. Her first experience was in March of 2007 when she spent time there with a group of chefs cooking and doing relief work.
Taylor works at Auer Ace Hardware, but is also a pastry chef with her own business, la petit chef. She volunteered this November with the Lower Nine Organization, which assists homeowners with the rebuilding process that is still ongoing from the hurricane damage in 2005.
"Lower Nine provides all the labor at no charge," said Taylor. "The homeowners are only responsible for the material costs. There are many long-term volunteers working with the organization and several who come and go like we did."
Taylor said that most of the homes need to be reduced down to the frame in order to remove all the water damage. The homes in this particular area were the hardest hit since most of them were completely covered with water.
"This is a very historic neighborhood," said Taylor. "Many of the people don't have the money to come back to their damaged homes. Only 17 percent of the people have been able to return to the Lower Nine area."
Taylor spent most of her time during this trip hauling away debris on several different work sites.
"We would get our assignments each morning from the crew leader," she said. "There were usually three to seven people working at each site."
She said that the Lower Nine organization has 40 to 60 homes on the waiting list for repairs. The Bette Midler Family Foundation pays for licensed plumbers and electricians to do the plumbing and electrical work on the homes.
Taylor recalled her first trip to the area in 2007 with 15 chefs from all over the country.
"Our group leader told us then that we would never be able to forget the place once we left and he predicted that many of us would return," she said. "Two of the chefs are now living there. There's just no place like New Orleans. It sucks you in and you feel you need to be there and help."
Taylor said that if you visit the tourist sites of New Orleans you may not be aware of the extreme amount of work that is left to be done in the neighborhood areas. Many people are not able to rebuild their homes and many of the jobs they once had are no longer there. Many of the lots have just been leveled.
"Yet the residents are determined and so thankful for the help they are getting," expressed Taylor. "It's amazing to see the joy these people have in where they live - even if it is a FEMA trailer sitting in front of their house as they wait for the day when their home can be rebuilt. There is a man named Darrin who had spent four days on a roof during the storm before he was rescued. He is now a long-term volunteer for Lower Nine. He lives in a little one-room camper trailer next to the headquarters and works as a site manager to help rebuild his neighborhood."
Taylor feels that her work in New Orleans is a kind of 'pay it forward' thing.
"I would hope that if we ever needed help in our community we would have volunteers come here," she said. "We had a little taste of what that is like back in September with the wind and power outages."
She expressed her appreciation for her boss, Tom Edwards, at Auer Ace Hardware for working around her schedule so she could spend time in New Orleans.
"He is also helping me purchase a professional chain saw to donate to the Lower Nine organization," she said. "I'm taking donations toward this purchase. I figure if 30 or 40 people donated just $5 I would be able to purchase the saw and have it delivered as a holiday surprise."
Taylor said that she has often felt there was something she was supposed to do with her life. When she was contacted in the spring of 2007 by the French Culinary Institute to volunteer in New Orleans, it was definitely out of her comfort zone to go off by herself and volunteer like that.
"I'm so glad I did and grateful to my husband for taking care of things here while I was gone," she said. "When you volunteer like that you realize that 'it's not about you.' There's a lot of life in that city and I hope to be able to return again within six months. It's my passion help this city come back."
Taylor said she would encourage anyone who wants to go to New Orleans to volunteer or donate to the project to contact her for information. She can be reached at 623-8107."
For more information about the Lower Nine organization, go to www.lowernine.org.