I was part of the work force of over 900-1000 librarians who volunteered for a day of community help for local libraries and charities. My assignment was at a large Parish library (name and photo coming later) helping the Friends of the Library prepare and run their book sale. The best part of the day was talking with the locals attending the sale. To a person they were grateful for the help they were receiving from the conference. I was struck by so many things after talking to them.
The friends organization. What a fabulous group of volunteers. They run HUGE booksales (and any sale making over $70,000 is huge in my book) on a bi-annual basis. The library itself was free from hurricane damage, but the carpets had to be removed due to issues with a roof leak. There were great displays with before and after shots from different locals within the library system.
The patrons of the library. I was so struck by the stories they were all willing to share. Every conversation began with a simple statement of thanks for being here. The thanks was as much for keeping our committment to have the conference in New Orleans as it was for helping out with sales. The people of New Orleans have been wonderful and gracious and welcoming.
Courage. I continue to be in awe of the positive outlook of the people we spoke with. Many are hurting with little or no help still availbe. Another hurricane season has begun and they are still cleaning up from Katrina. Our bus driver took us through some damaged areas on the way back to the conference center yesterday and there are areas completely untouched and areas completely devastated. These people WANT to be here and still need help.
Communication. I was amazed at how much they wanted to talk. Especially to virtual strangers. We heard about housing lost, families lost, and great feats of joy. The need to talk and communicate what had happend with personal stories was unwavering. We were unable to do much but listen, but I think listening is what they wanted the most. It was the simple human understanding and compassion that meant most during this time.
They are not forgotten.