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Without Power, New Orleanians Rely On Food Sites After Hurricane Ida: ‘A True Need’

Food site at St. Roch Park, Sept. 1, 2021.
Richard A. Webster
Food site at St. Roch Park, Sept. 1, 2021.

Frank Jackson, 60, appeared tired and weary as he sat outside the Mahalia Jackson Theater in Treme Wednesday morning where the Louisiana National Guard was distributing MREs, water and ice.

It was about 10 a.m., and Jackson was already covered in sweat, having biked more than two miles from his home at Magnolia Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. He is helping to care for his four grandchildren so he spends his days riding around town looking for food and other supplies.

Frank Jackson at Mahalia Jackson Theater food distribution site, Sept. 1, 2021.
Richard A. Webster
Frank Jackson at Mahalia Jackson Theater food distribution site, Sept. 1, 2021.

Jackson said he has to keep moving and searching in order to survive the long, hot days.

“Nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream,” he said.

Until a reporter asked how he did during Hurricane Ida, Jackson said he didn’t even know the name of the storm, having weathered so many.

“Ida,” Jackson said slowly, testing the sound of the latest tormentor of southeast Louisiana.

Despite his perseverance and hustle, Jackson admitted he was tired. He said he didn’t know post-storm life was going to be this rough. Everything in his refrigerator has gone bad. He doesn’t have any clean clothes, and he can’t access the little money he has because all the ATMs are down.

“Why don’t they have emergency back-up generators for these ATM machines? What good is having an ATM card if you can’t use it?”

The worst, though, is the night.

“With the mosquitos, pitch black dark, you can’t see nothing. It’s just really miserable. Humid, and fighting bugs,” Jackson said. “You try to stay inside, and you come back out and all you’re looking at is nothing but darkness. I never thought those street lights meant so much.”

Aside from the return of power, the greatest needs for those New Orleanians attempting to survive the devastation of Hurricane Ida are gas, food, ice, water and cash to purchase supplies. And though the city so far has been unable to assist with either gas or cash, beginning on Tuesday it set up daily food and supply distribution sites throughout the city.

A steady stream of people on foot and in cars moved through the Treme site as National Guard troops handed out supplies. Capt. Kim Alexius-Watkins, 51, said by day’s end she anticipates they will hand out 50,000 MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat.

“People have been appreciative,” Alexius-Watkins said. “There is a true need for us being out here. It just makes us feel good.”

Alexius-Watkins lives in Slidell where her house took on four feet of water during Hurricane Katrina. After that storm, she said she was inspired to join the National Guard so she could help her community in the event of another disaster. And here she is, exactly 16 years later.

“It’s like déjà vu all over again, but without the water,” Alexius-Watkins said.

As Jackson prepared to leave, he regretted he didn’t bring a wagon to cart bags of ice back home, but said he’d be back tomorrow.

His grandchildren, at first, didn’t understand the threat of the storm, he said. When the power first went out, they thought it was a fun game, running around with their flashlights. But now, when they open the refrigerator and all the food is rotten and they don’t have any cold drinks or milk for their cereal, they understand

“They’re grasping the seriousness of it,” Jackson said.

Mahalia Jackson Theater food distribution site, Sept. 1, 2021
Richard A. Webster
Mahalia Jackson Theater food distribution site, Sept. 1, 2021

Several hours later, at a food distribution site in St. Roch Park, community members Chelsea Nelson, 34, Keenen Bellaphant, 26, and Kolby Simms, 13, helped serve scoops of chicken noodle stew and bananas to their thankful neighbors.

Nellie Catzen, 30, executive director of the Committee for a Better New Orleans, said the city reached out Tuesday looking for community leaders to help organize food sites throughout the city. She volunteered the assistance of her group and set up two serving stations in the park. The food is donated and prepared by the international global relief organization World Central Kitchen, which is temporarily stationed at the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute.

Catzen said they served 1,000 meals Tuesday and expected to serve the same amount Wednesday. There are likely more people in need, but spreading the word has proven difficult in a city where most people no longer have access to the internet, radio or television. As the crisis drags on, the number of residents who require additional services will grow, and that has Catzen concerned.

“I know everybody at the city is working as hard as they can to get through what’s a really tough situation,” Catzen said. “But it’s this part now — the heat and the resources running low — that’s going to be where a real push (for assistance) is needed the most.”

The food distribution sites are open daily across the city, though locations change each day. The list of sites open Thursday, Sept. 2, are as follows:

  • Mahalia Jackson Auditorium, Meals Ready to Eat: 1419 Basin Street from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Joe W. Brown Recreation Center, Meals Ready to Eat: 5475 Read Boulevard from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Joe W. Brown Recreation Center, Meal Distribution: 5601 Read Blvd. from 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Skelly Park, Meals Ready to Eat: 730 Vespasian Boulevard from noon to 6 p.m.
  • Arthur Monday Center, Meal Distribution: 1111 Newton St. from 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Milne Recreation Center, Meal Distribution: 5420 Franklin Ave. from 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Gernon Brown Recreation Center, Meal Distribution: 1001 Harrison Ave. from 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Cut Off Recreation Center, Meal Distribution: 6600 Belgrade St. from 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Treme Recreation Center, Meal Distribution: 900 N. Villere St. from 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Rosenwald Recreation Center, Meal Distribution: 1120 S. Broad Ave. from 4 to 6 p.m. 
  • Lyons Recreation Center, Meal Distribution: 624 Louisiana Ave. from 4 to 6 p.m. 
  • Stallings St. Claude Recreation Center, Meal Distribution: 4300 St. Claude Ave. from 4 to 6 p.m. 
  • Inspire McDonogh 35, Meal Distribution: 4000 Cadillac St. from 5 to 7 p.m.

Find a full calendar of food distribution sites and times, cooling stations, ice pick-ups and more here.

Before coming to Verite News, Richard A. Webster spent the past two and a half years as a member of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. He investigated allegations of abuse against the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, and claims of racial and economic inequities within Louisiana’s Road Home recovery program following Hurricane Katrina.

Webster previously was a member of The Times-Picayune’s investigative team, reporting on numerous special projects including “The Children of Central City,” an in-depth look at childhood trauma through the lens of a youth football team; “A Fragile State,” a multi-part series on Louisiana’s mental health care system; and “Dying at OPP,” which examined the deaths of inmates in Orleans Parish Prison.

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