Weedsport parishioners help rebuild New Orleans - Catholic Courier

Weedsport parishioners help rebuild New Orleans

Cindy Daly and her daughter, Erin, knew that Hurricane Katrina had wrought a tremendous amount of damage when it stormed through New Orleans in August 2005. They signed up to rebuild houses in New Orleans over spring break because they knew many of the city’s residents still needed help.

Even that knowledge, however, did not prepare them for the reality they found in the Big Easy.

"It was quite an awakening. You just can’t believe it until you see it," said Daly, a member of Our Lady of the Snow Parish in Weedsport.

"You can drive down the street and see four or five houses that are beautiful, and then the next house is just weeds. It’s hard to imagine that two-and-a-half years later there is still this huge disparity," she added.

The Dalys traveled to New Orleans through Love Knows No Bounds, an Ithaca-based not-for-profit founded by a social worker in the Ithaca City School Department, where Daly is a teacher. The organization is dedicated to restoring the homes, hope and happiness of residents in New Orleans’ 7th Ward, and thus far it has sent several work crews and a few truckloads of supplies to the area.

Before Daly decided to join a New Orleans-bound work crew during her school’s spring recess, she first asked 15-year-old Erin if she minded her mother leaving for a week. Erin surprised her by asking if she could sign up for the trip, too, Daly said. Mother and daughter left for New Orleans April 12 and returned April 20 from a trip that had surpassed their expectations by far.

"I didn’t want to leave," Erin stated.

The Dalys were part of a work crew of between 60 and 65 people that stayed at St. John No. 5 Faith Church in St. Bernard Parish in the 7th Ward. Those 60-plus people split up into smaller work crews and were spread out among as many as six different work sites each day, Daly said.

Daly was assigned to a crew that was rebuilding a storm-damaged home, and she and her team members worked with an electrician.

"I learned about running wires and pulling wires. I worked with another member of my team and we were running wires under the house," she recalled.

Daly also did such odd jobs as caulking and carrying siding. Before her team could even begin some of that work, however, they first had to clear piles of storm and construction debris from the house’s back yard. Daly was surprised by how much storm debris — especially broken glass — still littered many of the neighborhood’s yards.

"You could pick it up or rake it up and there was just another layer. We just bagged a lot of debris. Our first day we had a crew of 12 at that house, and in the first half of the day we filled a construction Dumpster," Daly said.

While her mother was filling a Dumpster, Erin was at another site unloading donated supplies — everything from mattresses to chairs to clothing — from a tractor-trailer truck that had just arrived from Ithaca. Erin and her 14 teammates unloaded the truck then headed to their own work site, where they spent much of the week chipping the old paint off a house and adding new coats of paint to its exterior.

"We were painting and ironically we were on Painter Street. We were called the Paint Goddesses because we were pretty much all women," Erin said.

Erin said she won’t soon forget the shades of paint she used, which were humorously christened by the paint company with exotic names such as Coral Passion, Secluded Gardens and Clarified Butter.

"It’s still actually on my nails. It won’t come off," she told the Catholic Courier four days after she returned from New Orleans.

Erin said she was initially worried about working in the 7th Ward because she’d heard it wasn’t the best part of town, but everyone she met was extremely friendly and soon put her fears to rest.

"We were very well-received," her mother agreed. "The people down there are very appreciative that people are caring and concerned. The families that we were helping were just all so thrilled and so excited that we were there."

While some places appeared almost untouched by the disaster, elsewhere were constant reminders of tragedy.

"We saw homes where you could still see the holes in the roof where people had cut themselves out," she said.

Many small grocery and corner stores, especially in the poorer neighborhoods, were still boarded up, and much of the 9th Ward, near where one of the levies broke, remains empty, she added.

"There’s just open fields with just a couple of houses, and it’s hard to imagine, as our host told us, that it was wall-to-wall homes before," Daly said.

"I think it really hit me when we got to the 9th Ward," Erin agreed. "The abandoned houses were still standing there because people wouldn’t move back because if it ever flooded again, the same thing would happen again."

New Orleans residents had been dealt a cruel hand, but Erin said she was inspired by their attitudes and especially their faith.

"When we got down there and we started seeing what church meant to these people, I started to see what it should mean to me. Everything kind of sank in," she said.

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