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Helpers need help after Katrina

Date: 10/31/2005

Helpers need help after Katrina
Nonprofits are forced to do more with less
Monday, October 31, 2005
By Joan Treadway
Staff writer
A midsize food bank in eastern New Orleans is meeting a Herculean task -- feeding a multitude of homeless, hungry hurricane victims from far-flung places -- with improvisation and unconditional generosity.

Across town at the New Orleans Mission in Central City, where normally 300 people are sheltered each night, Executive Director Ronald Gonzales is just starting to rebuild the main building's destroyed roof and the damage to other structures, yet he has been getting between 30 and 50 calls daily from people who have lost own homes and want to stay at the shuttered facility.

Nonprofit agencies throughout the area are finding their workers displaced and their facilities destroyed or damaged by Katrina, but the need for their services is more urgent than ever. They are learning to regroup and respond in innovative ways and are benefiting from an unprecedented outpouring of aid from national multibillion-dollar foundations and small individual donors.

"I'm just amazed," said Debra South, 44, founder of Just the Right Attitude food bank, as she surveyed the cars, vans and sport utility vehicles lined up for three blocks.

At the food bank's new temporary site in a car dealership on the Interstate 10 service road near Bullard Avenue, drivers who came from as far as Crown Point and Pearl River waited their turn as volunteers cheerfully tossed out canned goods, bottled water, cleaning supplies and diapers from makeshift tents.

The food bank, which normally feeds about 2,660 families in 10 days, provided groceries for 14,000 families in the first 10 days after reopening early this month.

South's center had been swamped by the storm, as was her New Orleans home, but she set up temporary quarters at Troy Duhon's Premier Honda dealership.

Duhon, a longtime supporter of South's project, loaned her the site for a month. He also helped staff the food bank with volunteers from his nondenominational Church of the King in Mandeville.

The church's leaders, in an alliance called Pastors Resource Council Compassion, recruited dozens of people from California to Connecticut as reinforcements.

At the New Orleans Mission, Gonzales' goal is to be operational by Thanksgiving. To that end, he has solicited volunteer workers and donations, largely through the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, based in Kansas City, Mo. He has about 350 volunteers lined up. And he has raised $70,000, which he called a good start toward the $800,000 the mission needs for repairs.

A new world

Some organizations are coming forward to help Katrina survivors without being asked. Ben Johnson, president of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which holds and invests money for about 600 charitable funds, said major national foundations are funneling money to his group, which is gearing up to pass it on to local nonprofits.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in Los Angeles, one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations, has contributed $6 million to be shared with The Baton Rouge Area Foundation

"The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is so enormous that, with our foundation's focus on alleviating human suffering, it compels our attention," Steven Hilton, chairman of the foundation, said in announcing the contribution. He earmarked almost half of the money for rebuilding nonprofit agencies in the region.

Johnson estimates the Greater New Orleans Foundation will get $2 million to $3 million from the money that major organizations have already put into the joint pool. He has been asking leaders of struggling nonprofits how they plan to change their mission to fit into the post-Katrina world and how they plan to trim expenses as their usual streams of money dry up.

Nonprofits that are not able to adjust may not survive, he said. Southeast Louisiana has about 4,200 nonprofits, and between 50 percent and 80 percent of them could fold during this crisis, he said.

Help for nonprofits

During the past two months, GPOA, a private local foundation created from the sale of the old German Protestant Orphan Asylum, has given away almost $200,000 in emergency grants to local nonprofits so they can retain their staffs and keep operating, said Lisa Kaichen, GPOA's manager. Among the recipients were Raintree Services, which operates a group home for abused and neglected girls, and the local ARC, which helps retarded citizens.

"We're seeing a new level of collaboration and partnership among nonprofits," said Melissa Flournoy, president of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations. "And everybody wants to work with business and with government."

The 900-member organization represents about 225 agencies in the New Orleans area, many of which have been heavily impacted by the disaster, she said.

The association is offering free counseling to nonprofit groups from national consultants and its own staff. And it is contacting corporations and foundations to develop a pool of about $5 million for struggling agencies.

Anita Gilford, executive director of Angels' Place, a Metairie-based nonprofit that provides volunteers to give respite to parents of seriously ill children, was thrilled when she learned that her organization would reap some of the proceeds from the release of a song called "Come Together Now," a project of actress-songwriter Sharon Stone and other celebrities.

"It was a blessing that came out of nowhere," Gilford said. Stone's group, wanting to help a Louisiana organization after the storm, asked U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R.-La., for a suggestion, and he named her group.

But Gilford is continuing to try to raise about $2.5 million through an existing newsletter to build a home for respite and hospice care. Volunteers now visit sick children in their homes.

Expanded mission

James Kelly, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, said his agency, the human services arm of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, has long had a mission to care for the poor and the vulnerable, a group that has now expanded. "People who used to be middle class may be considered poor, and we are all vulnerable," he said. "Everybody who experienced the hurricane is a victim."

Catholic Charities was operating with a $80 million budget until Katrina devastated the area. Now, he said, it will need another $20 million just to serve the needs of evacuees. Kelly is reaching out to major corporations and foundations but has been moved by the outpouring of unsolicited aid from faithful donors, above their usual contributions.

His staff is trying to revive programs that were shut down by the storm in one way or another. Uptown, Crescent House's transitional home for battered women burned, and alternative housing will have to be found, he said. In Belle Chasse, Padua Pediatrics, which cares for profoundly disabled children, was evacuated before the storm hit, but now it has reopened and all 32 young residents are back.

The agency is also launching new projects, such as hiring dozens of counselors to fan out and assist people traumatized by Katrina.

Martha Kegel, executive director of Unity for the Homeless, a local collaborative of 70 nonprofit and governmental agencies, is working to get state and federal financial support to assist homeless people. The group hopes to build about 10,000 new housing units for disabled people and the working poor.

She lost her own Gentilly Terrace house in the storm, she said.

At Covenant House, on the edge of the French Quarter, Executive Director Stacy Horn Koch said the residents, about 50 young people, were evacuated to Houston and will not return until next month. In the meantime, she is filling the center with displaced service providers and with newly homeless hotel workers.

When the teenagers get back, she will condense their space and let the newcomers stay on, she said. The center's staff was struggling to raise $5 million before Katrina, and more is needed now.

Lifting spirits

At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which partially reopened last week, Associate Director Bev Sakauye said she is applying for financing from two sources that she doesn't usually tap: the Southeastern Museums Conference and the American Association of Museums.

She was delighted recently when a few individuals from other states unexpectedly donated pieces of art to Ogden in the wake of the hurricane.

The Warehouse District institution sustained only minimal storm damage but had to shut down for a month due to the evacuation of both its staff and the visitors who provide the admission fees that pay for museum operations, she said.

In the post-Katrina world, Sakauye said, "of course you have got to take care of people's immediate needs, like for food and shelter. But after that, I think people's spirits need to be lifted and the arts can help do that."

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Joan Treadway can be reached at jtreadway@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3305.