The Marian Center is in the Gentilly neighborhood, one of the worst hit areas of New Orleans. This Catholic middle school took over 10 feet of water; the whole first floor was completely submerged.
A lot of work has already been done to bring the building back, but the children and staff aren't there. So what do you do with a school building?
You turn it into housing for volunteers.
Catholic Charities is coordinating a huge effort in New Orleans. With the muscle provided by volunteers, they are gutting, cleaning, and rebuilding homes throughout the ravaged city. The problem is to house these willing workers.
The school is perfect for this -- except it's filthy and damaged, filled with ruined schoolbooks, children's notebooks, lockers, musical instruments.
I got to clean it up today. First, we hauled chairs and tables downstairs, to be transported to the supply warehouse, which was a church before the storm. Then, we cleaned debris and trash and sodden junk from the school to the street, where a front-end loader came by and scooped it up. We set up cots where the volunteers will sleep. This will be bare bones housing, but it will be comfortable and clean.
Those of us with the requisite skills got to put up sheetrock. Not me -- that way lies madness. No, I took on a task much more suited to my talents.
I mopped. Bucket after bucket of water and Pine Sol turned from soapy and clear to black. I mopped rooms, hallways, closets, bathrooms. I dry mopped the gymnasium, then wet mopped it later. I had company, thank goodness. There were four of us mopping away. We got it down a dance. Swish to the left, swish to the right, back and forth, rinse, squeeze, repeat.
I haven't worked this hard physically in -- ever.
Hot and sweaty, exhausted and tired, we climbed into the shuttle bus for the ride back to our hotel. Our air-conditioned, comfy bed, hot showers and free happy hour hotel.
I've got it easy.
And someday, someday when the families return to the city, someday when the green nylon cots and portable showers are no longer needed, someday the children will return to school and wear their band uniforms with the red jackets and crested helmets, and the band will play for the basketball games, played in the gym on the floor we mopped.