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My Hunger Story - I survived Hurricane Katrina

Second Harvest Community Food Bank would like to introduce our new Hunger Ambassador, Andrea Gibbs. Andrea is the Director of Education at the American College of Technology in St. Joseph, Missouri.

By Andrea Gibbs

Since today is the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina; Andrea begins her journey as a Hunger Ambassador by sharing her own hunger story by taking a unique look at how Feeding America, food banks and pantries worked together to make a difference after that devastating disaster.

At the time Katrina took aim at my region I was running a non-profit food pantry. We struggled to provide for some of the nation's poorest people in the Gulf South and with a hurricane taking aim at us, people went into panic mode. No one knew just how terrible Katrina would end up being, but what the poor folks did know was they did not have the luxury of going to the store and stocking up for what they needed. The shelves of our little food pantry were quickly emptied, and my colleagues and I boarded up the windows and made ourselves a place to ride out the storm. It broke my heart as the phone continued to ring and I had to tell frightened people that I had nothing left to share with them.

The moment I was told that Hurricane Katrina had strengthened into a category five storm I knew we were in trouble. As a southern woman, I have been through many hurricanes, but this time I knew something was terribly different. My family and friends were scattered throughout the region, and we talked on the phone telling each other to be safe until the storm took our communication lines away from us. Outside the wind started whipping, inside our sanctuary, all we could do was wait.

Thirteen hours after Katrina made landfall, I finally opened the door to see what all those terrible noises I heard for all those breath-holding hours had actually done to us. Our dogs immediately started barking and running in every direction. They literally did not recognize their home. Hurricane Katrina had ripped our world apart; and there we stood, in shock, not fully knowing the extent of the devastation she had caused over a 500 mile radius.

It took us three days to make our way off our property which was located in rural southern Mississippi a half a mile down a dirt road. There was still no word from family and friends, sporadic radio announcements to stay off the highways, and guesses at how many people were dead. I cried, prayed and cut trees out of our way. My mom had been diagnosed with liver cancer about six months prior to this happening. Where was she? Was she ok? What about my friends? What about everything I had ever known? The hospitals were not functioning. People were drowning in New Orleans and dying in the Superdome. The helplessness I felt was worse than any feeling I have ever known in my life. It was five days after the storm before I looked up and saw my nephew walking towards me with his arms wide open calling out my name. I had never been so glad to see my sweet Talmadge in his whole life and I think at that moment he felt the same way about his Aunt Andie. I held him so tight and cried for a half hour. He finally told me to let him go as he couldn't breathe between my squeezing him so hard and the humidity. It was the first time since Katrina had taken aim at us that a smile crossed my face.

Two weeks after Katrina destroyed our world as we knew it, the federal government was still slow in moving and those of us in the aftermath were in just as much of a state of shock about that as we were about what had happened to us. Why weren't flats of food and water being dropped out of helicopters for us? We had all seen it on television before as the United States helped other disaster and war survivors. Why were we being forgotten by our own government? Where was everybody? We were hungry, thirsty, hot, scared, tired, and many of us were still searching for our loved ones. The one sentiment I kept hearing over and over was that our material things may be gone, but we had our lives and we had each other. Differences of culture and class began to fade as we all found ourselves in the same situation and knew that all we could count on was our neighbors, no matter what stereotypes we may have assigned them before. When all of a sudden EVERYONE is homeless and standing in lines for help, all the issues that divide us as a society becomes a moot point. There are no differences. At that time in our lives we ALL know material deprivation, and we also begin to understand how material things can be taken from us in one fell swoop. We also learn quickly the value of life and loved ones.

As people from all over the world began to flood us with supplies, assistance and love, we all were humbled by the generosity of strangers. Feeding America came in with semi-truck loads of food, water, clothes, generators, diapers, pet supplies and the list goes on and on. Feeding America sent several trucks to our small non-profit out in the country, and we ran 15 distribution sights over a 20 county area. I will forever hold gratitude in my heart for Feeding America. As a Hunger Ambassador for Second Harvest Community Food Bank, a Feeding America agency, I will do everything I can to return the kindnesses they so generously showed to people in my region when it seemed we had been forgotten by our own government.

In summation, I would like to dedicate this hunger story to my friend Linda. I met Linda when I was in my early 20's. She hired me for my first office job and taught me many lessons. Linda came from old money, and for several reasons she had become estranged from her wealthy family. Linda and I both struggled to make ends meet for ourselves while assisting others in finding employment and help in the Gulf Coast communities. I found out about a month after Katrina had devastated us that Linda had died in the storm. She went to try to get her parents to leave their beautiful home on the Back Bay in Biloxi. Her mother was concerned that if she left the house it would be looted and all the precious antiques she spent a lifetime collecting would be stolen. Linda would not leave her elderly parents. Linda's daughter would not leave her mom. When the storm surge came in, it toppled their beautiful home, and sucked Linda and her entire family out into the Gulf of Mexico. To this day they have not found their bodies. I often wonder had they lived, if they would have had the same sentiments about being thankful for just having their lives and their family. I wonder how much importance all of those expensive antiques that were destroyed in the storm would have held. I guess I will never know. 

Posted by asmullin - Monday, 08/29/11, 09:54 AM - Comments - Category: Hunger Story

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