The Red Cross Is Great, But Here Is a Grassroots Alternative

On Friday, I talked on the phone with my friend Marylee Orr, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Marylee is the director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network--a coalition of over 100 grassroots citizens groups throughout the now devastated state of Louisiana. I got to know her on the Department of Environmental Studies' field studies trip to Louisiana last March when 13 of our students got up close and personal with environmental justice issues in "Cancer Alley." Marylee helped our students out a lot during our trip and I have been fast friends with her ever since.

Here is why I love her. Marylee hasn't been up late every night out for the last week out of aimless worry about the many victims and the environmental tragedy left in the wake of the hurricane and official mismanagement of both the disaster prevention and response efforts. She's been up late because she is working hard to do something about the situation. As she told me on the phone on Friday afternoon, the federal government is not really on the ground doing much yet and, in some of the hard hit parishes in the state, even the Red Cross is not much of a presence yet. In the time honored tradition of grassroots citizenship for the common good, this gutsy woman is using the local contacts with grassroots activists, local officials, and Louisiana faith communities she has built up over 20 years to help close the dramatic gap between the intense need of the people of the Louisiana and the official response so far.

Just this Thurday, LEAN members provided an airdrop of food, water, and medical supplies to the trapped residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemine Parishes, two of the most inundated areas in the state. Saturday, LEAN dropped more supplies for stranded people in Washington Parish. LEAN is also working hard now to raise more funds to allow local people, working with local government leaders to provide direct, immediate assistance with all the efficiency that comes from not being a bureaucrat or an outsider. I've already made a contribution to the Red Cross to offer some assistance to the hurricane victims in Louisiana, but I've decided to write a check for ten times that amount to the Louisiana Environmental Action Network in order to support people that I know have both the big hearts and the local knowledge needed to help meet the crying humanitarian needs in Louisiana. I also know that LEAN won't just leave the area when the immediate crisis is over. LEAN will also work to address the toxic cesspool and chemical contamination that will be left behind when the water finally recedes. I’m asking everyone I know to join me in contributing money directly to LEAN for their local efforts in disaster relief. Every penny will be used well. I would trust Marylee with my life and I know her effort will save lives. Please dig deep and give as much as you can to: LEAN, 162 Craydon Avenue, Baton Rouge, LA 70806.

At the very end of our phone call on Friday, Marylee thanked me for pledging money and for my offer to encourage other folks to contribute to LEAN's disaster relief efforts, but she also asked for one more thing. She said, "We need financial contributions from all our friends around the country for sure, but we could also really use your prayers. It means so much to know that people around the country care." For people who want to send good wishes as well as their checks, please write to Marylee's group at lean@leanweb.org. She likely won't have time to write back, but it will mean a lot to this hard working, non-sleeping group of local heros to know that our hearts and prayers are with them.

Below is an email I received from Marylee after our phone call.

Best, Steve

September 2, 2005

Dear Friends of Louisiana,

Due to the catastrophic event of Hurricane Katrina there is an enormous need for life-saving and life-sustaining supplies. At this time, the most needed items are tetanus shots, insulin, IV fluids, as well as financial resources to purchase and transport medical and food assistance directly to victims.

Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) is working closely with the Office of Representative Brasso of St. Bernard Parish. Our contributions are being immediately given to the residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, two of the most inundated areas. LEAN feels that by working directly with the parish representatives we are best able to assist in meeting the critical needs of these victims and addressing the crisis in our communities.

The situation in Louisiana is heartbreaking and we hope that by working together we can help save lives and improve the lives of those who have survived this disaster. We would appreciate donations of medical supplies, food and water, or funds to purchase these supplies. For example, yesterday, September 1,
2005, we purchased medical supplies such as aspirin, neosporin, syringes, hand sanitizer, gloves, tylenol, bandages, and so forth. These supplies were directly air dropped down today on September 2, 2005, to people stuck in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish.

We can not thank you enough for caring about what is going on in our region. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. Words can not describe the suffering and courage of the people here. Please help us help our neighbors in our home state. May God bless you for all your support, concern and prayers during this tragic time.

With warmest regards,

Marylee Orr
Executive Director
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
162 Croydon Ave Baton Rouge, La. 70806


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