There were certain points throughout this week that really touched me. On Christmas day, I volunteered at an organization called Lantern Light. Lantern light acts as a day shelter for homeless people in New Orleans. They work five days a week providing free meals and showers plus providing other necessary services. My job was to ask the guests coming in if they had any wishes for 2015. I was very shaken by the responses I got.
“I wish to finally receive my social security disability benefits this year”
“I wish to be sober”
“I wish to be off the streets”
No one I spoke to was asking for material goods. What they were asking for were things that we so often take for granted. The adults I spoke with, where wishing for items necessary to surviving another day. Many of the people I spoke with felt blessed simply that they could have good company, and an ear to confide in, and a warm meal. What we were able to bring to Lantern Light on Christmas day was a smile and a few hours of joy. The people we spoke to lit up as we sang songs and talked to them about their lives. One women told us that we had “made this Christmas feel like a regular Christmas, and not one on the streets.” This week in New Orleans illustrated to me just how much work there is still to be done. Nine years later, and the lower ninth ward is still devastated by Katrina. While eighty of us on a five day trip cannot completely fix the city, the work we did was certainly a step in the right direction.
As we all head back home to the daily whirl of our 21st century lives, it is important to retain the feelings of our experience. New Orleans is still faced with a large homeless population and poverty that seems unreal in a country that classifies itself as wealthy. What exists in New Orleans cannot only be happening there. Poverty and homelessness exist in our own communities. The question that we must ask now that we’re home is “What can I do to create a change in my own community?” Just as what is happening in New Orleans must be happening elsewhere, what is working for New Orleans can work in our own communities. Take for example, re-circulating farm, an urban farm that works to provide fresh produce as well as various classes on living a healthy life style, in an effort to supplement their meals in a healthy and sustainable manner. Who is to say that we cannot do the same thing in our communities? In the coming weeks and months I look forward to what all of you will do to give back to your own communities, in the same way we were able to give back to New Orleans.
You do not need money to make a difference. Remember that tzedakah, is about putting your heart, time, and passion into making a difference in the lives of others.
AWB is all about taking the great work we have done for a community and figuring out how to affect change back home.
~Michaela Davenport, National Social Action Programmer. 12th Grade, Tucson, Arizona