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When the Cameras Stop Rolling, Nonprofits Remain
Grassroots Organizations Respond Heroically to Hurricane Devastation
When Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast on August 29 and just three weeks later Hurricane Rita cut a deadly path through Florida, Texas and Louisiana, community-based organizations from across the United States were the first to respond. While government agencies pointed fingers and took the “blame game” to new lows, these same grassroots nonprofits hired buses, drove trucks and organized caravans to reach the affected areas and provide shelter, food and compassion for the victims.
For example, The Ordinary Peoples Society (TOPS), a prison ministry in Dothan, Ala., founded and staffed by ex-offenders, mobilized to get food and supplies to Mobile, Ala., as soon as news about the devastation reached them. In collaboration with a second organization of formerly incarcerated men, TOPS distributed the goods to victims, not one of whom had seen or heard from the government or national relief organizations.
When large nongovernmental organizations and government agencies finally began to reach those hardest hit by the storms, non-profit organizations, joined by foundations, became staunch advocates for increased aid and services for the affected regions. Later, as some semblance of order began to arise from the chaos, nonprofits began to advocate for the involvement of local people, especially those nonprofits in the rebuilding effort.
The rest of the nation – and the world – learned something about the critical role that U.S. community-based nonprofits play in the fabric of our nation during those terrible weeks. Those of us in the non-profit world – and those whose life we’ve touched – have long known that community-based organizations are often the first to provide support for people and communities in trouble. And our non-profit colleagues remain a constant presence long after the individuals and communities affected are back on their feet.
Articles on Social Justice
Like the rest of the nation, TSNE watched the devastation in the Gulf Coast unfold and saw the confusion in Texas and Florida and wanted to support the non-profit response. We encouraged our staff, fiscal sponsorship clients and tenants of the NonProfit Center to donate to the relief effort, offering to match their contributions to the Red Cross, ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and to the Greater Boston Food Bank.
We all know the important work that has been done by the Red Cross. But some of you may not know the work that was done to support victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by the Greater Boston Food Bank or by ACORN, the largest community-based organization of low-income families in New Orleans and the nation. Their work exemplifies the special role that grassroots organizations play in meeting the needs of their communities by engaging their constituents.
A Heroic Response
Dealing with the aftermath of the hurricanes was truly heroic for ACORN’s staff, as the organization is headquartered in New Orleans. Immediately responding to the Hurricane Katrina, ACORN began to:
Although having to work out of temporary offices in Baton Rouge, ACORN’s support to the victims of Hurricane Rita was equally comprehensive. Through community organizing and public actions the work by staff and members has resulted in:
A Network Responds
The Greater Boston Food Bank is the Boston-area affiliate of America’s Second Harvest-The Nations Food Bank Network. One hundred percent of donations made in response to the hurricanes go to relief and recovery efforts. By the end of November, more than 1,900 truckloads of badly needed food and grocery products had been dispatched to 30 network food banks in the Gulf Coast area and several others in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and surrounding states, such as Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee, where hundreds of thousands of evacuees have moved. This translates into:
In addition, The Greater Boston Food Bank has helped with supply logistics for several hundred evacuees housed at Camp Edwards-Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
The Long Road Ahead
While the response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by these grassroots and others has been remarkable, it is important for all of us in the third sector, nonprofits and capacity builders alike, to realize that much of the regions’ non-profit infrastructure has been devastated by the storms. What local nonprofits need most from us are collaboration, support and advocacy to ensure that they have a decision-making role in rebuilding the regions affected. It is unacceptable to recreate the region as it was. That is simply a formula for a repetition of the disasters in the future.
With community-based groups at the table, people of color, low-income people, those outside of the inner political circles and marginalized communities can be an integral part of the rebuilding effort. As we have learned at TSNE, when every part of the community is involved, a better future can be created for everyone in the region.
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