Alternative Winter Break Two Birds with One Stone – Ariel Glueck
By Sharon Schoenfeld
The Arc of Lower New Orleans is a multi-pronged organization committed to helping the mentally disabled community. We walked into a stark building not really knowing what to expect from this organization, but we walked into a room piled wall to wall, floor to ceiling with bags of Mardi Gras beads and a woman with 5 strings of beads around her neck and a smile on her face and I knew we would be okay. Debra gave us a tour of the building and explained the way the organization works. They take donations of Mardi Gras beads from New Orleanians and employ mentally disabled adults to sort through the beads so Arc can sell them. Additionally, they run a soup kitchen. This kills three birds with one stone: they recycle Mardi Gras beads, which as she explained, Mardi Gras generally produces 2 millions pounds of, they employ mentally-disabled adults who might not otherwise be able to get employment, and they run a soup kitchen for those who can’t afford meals.
A half an hour later, we were elbow-deep in Mardi Gras beads, learning how to sort them into five categories. Debra taught as all about the different krewes who run Mardi Gras and how to differentiate their beads. We learned about the history of Mardi Gras through the beads, we were elbow deep – actually gloved-hand deep – in Mardi Gras beads which had spend brief periods of time up on puke covered historical streets, and then lived forgotten in someone’s attic until the folks at Arc encouraged them to donate the beads. Debra told us that they say New Orleans is sinking because of all of the Mardi Gras beads in people’s attics. We sorted enough beads to make $1,500 for the organization, which would go to wages for the mentally disabled and the keep the organization running.
The chanichim reflected on the uniqueness of this organization. The other organizations we are volunteering for are wonderful models that can be transplanted on any other community in need: St. Bernard’s Project has offices in North Carolina to help rebuild houses after natural disasters there, Green Light is a wonderful model for any suburban setting, as Recirculating Farms is for an urban setting. The Arc organization is truly a New Orleans organization. They don’t have any great plans for expansion in the future. They are recycling beads and employing the mentally disabled as long as Mardi Gras exists and mentally disabled adults need jobs. A few of the chanichim expressed gratitude for the ability to interact with some of the employees, some of them explained that they had personal connections to the cause and really appreciated how much employment means. We later had a peulat about Maimonides eight rungs of tzdakah and we mentioned that this organization rose to the top of the ladder: past giving happily, past a wonderful charitable interaction, past a double-blind tzdakah exchange. This organization gives employment. They give the opportunity to be self-sufficient. This wonderful organization would not run smoothly without Debra’s patient leadership and easy smile. She was a wonderful woman to have the pleasure of interacting with.
Later that day, all of AWB visited Mardi Gras world to see where all the floats and props for Mardi Gras are produced. During the informative video before the tour, they mentioned the krewes and how they worked and I heard dispersed whispers of the chanichim who were with me. They were proud to have touched hundreds of beads with the names of different krewesfd on them. We already knew how that work. Arc gave the chanichim a certain ownership of this city, a certain admittance to the secret club of those involved with making the magic of Mardi Gras happen.
Ariel Glueck is from Highland Park, NJ, is a student at Hunter College and is a staff member at Sprout Lake. Ariel’s young brother is also on AWB for the first time.