From Oct. 9 through Oct. 15, the Christ Our Redeemer Church in Irvine along with members of UC Irvine’s Alpha Phi Alpha African-American fraternity organized a relief team to go to hurricane-devastated New Orleans and lend their helping hand.
Organized into a well-packed team, four students from UCI flew to Louisiana and experienced firsthand what the victims of Katrina are going through. Despite their encumbering schoolwork, these students felt that they were needed in New Orleans.
‘It was weighing heavily on my heart and God was calling me, telling it was something I needed to do,’ said Amber Reed, a fifth-year computer engineering major. ‘School is important but it’s something you can always make up.’
For the volunteers, New Orleans helped show them a part of life that they never experienced firsthand.
‘When seeing trees uprooted and tipped over on top of houses and seeing school buses in bushes and inside houses becomes a common sight, it’s a humbling experience,’ said Charles Dorsey, a fifth-year psychology major and one of the main organizers of the event, along with his church; he helped with the bulk of the recruitment process.
The volunteers also traveled to New Orleans by bus.
‘It was a missionary trip. Riding planes would’ve been too classy, I’m sure of it,’ Dorsey said.
Proudly adorning the buses were banners with the title ‘Freedom Riders’ written across. The pastor of Christ Our Redeemer Church, Mark Whitloc, chose this name in the spirit of the ‘Freedom Rides’ of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement because the name ‘Freedom Riders’ exudes a sense of liberty, of courage, of bearing the brunt of a challenge.
The volunteers spread all over Louisiana when they got there. Some were stationed in the University of New Orleans and others spent their time in the neighborhoods, lending their services to people wandering the streets.
This direct confrontation with the victims left the volunteers with personal accounts that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
‘We were walking through one of the neighborhoods, looking at the devastation, and there was this little girl who had to be no more than 6 years old who hasn’t returned to her house since the hurricane and she was just looking up at the house, staring at it,’ Reed recounted. ‘They had nothing left, everything was flooded.’
Reed and the others discovered from this experience how unexpected life can be.
The destruction that these people survived left some of them with a feeling of animosity.
There were not many instances of anger towards the government, but the volunteers did come across people who were still in denial over the whole situation.
‘There was a homeless person who we tried to give some food to and she reacted kind of negatively and I think that was because of some of the underlying hurt that she might still be experiencing based on what she might have lost, whether people came to help or not,’ Dorsey said.
However, most people accepted them with gratitude. Despite the event being organized by a church and members of an African-American fraternity, people of all nationalities and creed came to support them.
For instance, it was a rabbi association who helped donate the buses that they would ride.
Dorsey and the others also amassed over $30,000 with the help of KGLH, a radio station owned by Stevie Wonder, to collect ATM cards for the evacuees stationed in various evacuation centers. These ATM cards have a spending limit on them and were distributed to everyone possible.
‘[The evacuees] were really happy and welcomed us with open arms,’ Dorsey said.
The volunteers learned an important lesson about life and about the power of kindness.
‘There are no guarantees in life,’ Reed said. ‘You never what can happen, what disasters can strike next and it’s our job as U.S. citizens and human beings to help others when [they’re] in need.’