For three years, Chronicle Books has sent a group of volunteers to New Orleans to help rebuild the city after the monumentally destructive Hurricane Katrina. This year our team of six congregated in the Garden District on October 12th, amid torrential downpours, to settle at the hostel and prepare for a week of working and some fun.
Feeling adventurous and as well rested as we would be for the next 7 days, the crew rose at 5:30 am CDT on October 13th to enjoy a hearty, cheap breakfast ($2.99 for two eggs, toast, grits, and bacon. Practically unheard-of!). After what would turn out to be our final breakfast of the trip, we arrived at 4929 Dodt Street at 7:45 am, ready to meet the rest of our work-mates and get started on construction.
Since we were only six this year, there were a lot of new people to meet at the site: A revolving group of Americorps volunteers and Habitat staff, plus other Habitat volunteers from New Orleans, Louisiana, Dallas, Texas, and even Angels Camp and Berkeley, California. We started in, hammering away to secure vertical boards to the frame of the house. Tuesday through Saturday we worked from 7:45 am to around 3:45 pm, while always excited to get out into the city and explore despite the 95 degree wet heat and our growing fatigue. New Orleans East only had a few lunch options up-and-running (not including fast food); our favorite was a tiny soul food place called Madea’s. I think we consumed our collective weight in ribs.
Other places we enjoyed (mostly eating): Café Du Monde, Sucré, Pravda, Yuki Izakaya, Juan’s Flying Burrito, Le Bon Temps Roule Bar & Sandwich, Joey K’s, Reginelli’s Pizzeria, Balcony Bar & Café, Moho Coffee House, and Cochon, where we ate our fantastic final New Orleans feast. Thanks to friends and fans of CB we received waaay too many recommendations to try in our limited time. Of the ones we did try, our favorite was Mahoney’s Po-Boys on Magazine Street, suggested by Times-Picayune reporter James O’Byrne.
Having worked with Chronicle Books to publish the New Orleans recipe book Cooking Up A Storm, James was the perfect bridge between our team and his city. He was gracious enough to give us a two-hour tour of the areas most devastated by the failures of the infrastructure to control post-Katrina flooding, including anecdotes about his experience as one of the first reporters to document the extent of the damage. His stories and photos made real the gravity of the situation, leaving us in awed silence. I wish that everyone could have the chance to hear his tour once; it definitely gave new purpose to our work for Habitat.
Meeting the future owner of our project house was another great addition to the trip; her entire family was at the work site to help build on Saturday. The weather had gradually become crisp and cool, with gray clouds giving way to expansive clear, blue skies. By the end of the last day we had made visible progress on the house at 4929 Dodt. We had finished nailing in the boards all around the house’s exterior, wrapped the entire house, cut holes for windows, installed and weather-proofed the windows, begun work on the front staircase, built corners to secure the siding, and installed tarpaper on and shingled the entire roof, in addition to countless other smaller tasks. There were some who obviously had prior construction experience, but by Saturday morning, even the least handy of us were giving those nails what for.
The team is so grateful for the opportunity to have helped New Orleans recovery efforts and experienced its charms! Thanks to everyone that supported us financially and otherwise. For more photos and daily posts, check out Twitter.com/chronola.
Laura Bagnato and the Chronola 2009 Team—Michelle Clair, John Elliott, Eloise Leigh, Mia Blankensop, Ben Sinclair