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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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WAVELAND, Miss.—One of the great ironies in the landscape of Katrina recovery efforts is the success of the New Waveland Café. It is, in fact, a soup kitchen, and for parts of the last eight weeks, it has served as many as 4,000 meals a day. It is still doling out 1,500 to 2,000 meals a day.

It is remarkable as much in its atmosphere as in its volume. Imagine being asked, after standing in line for dinner at a relief center, having lost your home: “Would you like walnut vinaigrette with your salad?”

This is the world of the Rainbow Family, and friends. The Rainbow people are the latest generation of hippies, and to hear them describe their set-up -- which can’t be described as a structure -- you might not predict efficiency.

“Our group is non-political, non-religious, non-organization or hierarchical,” says (non) spokesman Aaron Funk. “We make decisions as a group in a council through a consensus process. There are no official leaders. We all represent the circle at any time.”

Aaron Funk, part of the international, loosely-linked Rainbow Family, describes what his group is doing to help in Waveland, Miss.

There are tie-dyed T-shirts and dogs with bandanas. There are bands playing every few days. It doesn’t feel like the prime spot for hurricane relief.

And yet, local people line up here, day after day, and will tell you that it is certainly one of, if not the best, meal in town. There’s grilled pork, curried veggies and Basmati rice; most of the foods are organic. It works, and what is amazing about that is this: They’ve never done this before.

Top-notch meals

According to Funk, the alternative groups, linked through the Internet and through spiritual-social gatherings like the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada and the worldwide mass peace meditation that the Rainbow Family stages every July 4, ended up producing this effort. Funk lived in Berkeley, Calif., and was in contact with Colvis Siemon, who works at Organic Valley, of Viroqua, Wis. The two of them were in the initial group of about 10 people who arrived at the scene of the disaster about 10 days after Katrina hit. Organic Valley donated kitchen equipment, and later, a steady supply of food.

“It took us three or four days to realize we had to get here,” he says. But getting into the disaster zone was complicated, and took several more days. “Unfortunately, it was very confusing, and I don’t think anyone knew what to do,” says Funk. They had a mobile kitchen with capacity to feed 5,000 a day, but they got caught in a web of approvals, as one department handed off to another for a decision. “We end up calling 20 different numbers and nobody had an answer, so we showed up.”

They met up with another group, one of the first on the ground here, Bastrop Christian Outreach Center (BCOC), based in Bastrop, Texas. It was a match made in heaven, and hardship. Bastrop soon handed over the meal service function to Rainbow, and began focusing on distribution of groceries and other necessities.

Resources continue to materialize, like a massive geodesic tent from Burning Man, which is used for the main meal site. At the same time, Rainbow people hooked up with all the people they needed. Organic Valley proves a semi-truck full of food every week, and other contributors like Sanderson Farms also send in goods.

Although several government organizations tried to shut down the operation in the early days, the relationship with the government agencies has been smoothed over.

“We now have placed a food order and received a shipment from the Emergency Operations Center,” says Siemon.

Anyone and everyone

As far as this group is concerned, anybody who has anything to offer the people suffering from Katrina is a potential partner.

“We’re working with any and all groups who come through here," says Funk. “We’re working Christian, non-Christian, FEMA, the National Guard … anyone and everyone.”

Meals are the basic service. But there is also first aid for those who need it, and a children’s art space, which sometimes also has psychiatric counselors. And going well above and beyond the call of duty, Rainbow people are offering courses that didn’t exist here, even before Katrina—salsa, waltz and tango.

Meantime, if that geodesic tent that houses the New Waveland Café looks familiar, it’s because it is used at Burning Man. Some of the producers of that event are here in the background.

But try to get any background on the Rainbow Family and the links that bind them together, and run up against a wall. Who are the members, and how many are there? All they know, says Funk, is that it every year, on July 4, people come out to join meditation gatherings in groups of 8,000 to 20,000. How many people are in the worldwide movement?

“No idea,” says Funk. ”It’s international, and its non-organization. It’s a friend-of-a-friend’s network."

Why it all came together to work at the New Waveland Café is equally mysterious. “There’s a huge amount of magic, and help,” says Siemon. “I don’t know how it worked.”

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There are a few things that i would like to say about this. The Raibow people have managed to do more for these disaster victims then our supposed governmental agencies that are designed to provide relief in disasters. They are true movers and shakers! They have gained my respect, as well as those that they are serving. I watched them feed, clothe, and counsel these people, all with a smile on their faces and the purest of love for these victims. They are some of the most amazing people i have ever met in my life.

Additionally, i would like to state that the medical unit at the "New Waveland Cafe" is and had been providing a whole lot more then basic first aid. I served in the medical until from Oct 24 - Oct 31, 2005.(*****MSN - Please post the picture that you took inside the midical unit- or at least send it to me so i can share it with those of us in the picture*****) We averaged seeing nearly 50-75 patients per day. Yes minor first aid was provided, but minor surgical procedures were performed, preventative care, as well as seeing numerous sick patients who would otherwise would not have received care. We saw pateints that Hancock hospital turned away. We filled perscriptions of life saving medications that these people could not have obtained otherwise. All on donated medical supplies, and donated medical staff time. We shared our donated supplies to Hancock hospital when they were short on supplies.

A special thanks to Clovis, Jimmy, Monty, Doc Mark, Diana, Doc Sarah, Bridgette(CALM), and many others - you are all angels walking on earth, thank you all for allowing you hearts to be so open...............

You the un-organization are just beautiful.

I heard yesterday that this had been closed. I'm from Waveland, working in Houston & going home whenever possible. I have "dined" at the New Waveland Cafe & the food was excellent! The volunteers are cheerful & welcoming, & seem to be very organized. They are great!

Wow! Way to go folks! Finally someone who is doing some good. I'm sure that your efforts have made a world of difference in the area. I commend you on your efforts to help the folks down there. Keep up the good work. If I want to donate some money to your group is there anyone I can talk to?

I was here volunteering the medical team from Burbank, CA in week eight of the disaster and saw this entire operation at work. Americans helping Americans--it was awesome and we hope to be back in six months to give send half of Hep A shots. Bless you all for your great work! Love you!


Just to clearify- we offer more than first aid. For 6 weeks we have had a fully functional family medicine/urgent care clinic. Doctors come from all over and we've been seeing between 50-100 patients a day. It's all totally free with a lot of medicines and supplies donated from all over. Special kudos to Pfizer and International Aid for facilitating the donations of much needed medications.

Amazing what people can do when they work together! Keep up the great work New Waveland Cafe!
Best wishes,
JoAnn Bush
Los Angeles, CA

thank God for Rainbows of all descriptions, the Rainbow Family says it all!

WOW!And people have always said that hippies are unorganized and lazy!Being from the pacific northwest,we have always known this not to be true,they have usually been some of the most organized groups to offer help in a time of crisis.Maybe George and buddies could use a little tye-dye in their lives! Keep up the good work Rainbow peoople!!!

I think it is great when we lay aside the titles and red tape and just become humans helping humans without looking to who gets the pat on the back! Hooray for the Rainbow Family.

Beautiful intentions produce beautiful results

There area many, many Rainbow people in the world, working in their communities, trying to make a difference, praying for world peace as they go . . . . .

The beauty of this movement proves anarchism is a functional alternative. We can provide for eachother in ways that no one group, no government organization or institution, can hope to help people. We don't need the government for assistance, we need the will of us all to recognize social justice and injustice. We can help eachother in times of crisis, and we can help eachother in times of peace and harmony. Join hands and join the movement.

This makes me very proud and happy to see this kind of action by a group of people who have usualy been described as useless and either been laughed at or savaged by the right for their well intended effort to bring peace,harmony,and beauty to the world they live in. All my Love brothers and sisters

cast a wide net
find the commen thread
let life flourish
just keep it organic
Welcome to the rainbow family
a big family getting bigger
Be back soon
Diamond Dave Whitaker

I am thrilled to read of the great work that can happen when there is a will to do great things. I am truly amazed at the result a disorganized group can accomplish. Amazing that the military and government organizations couldn't pull together as quickly. If they had, the doctors on the Navy Ship Comfort may have actually been able to see patients< rather than twiddle their thumbs because they weren't liscenced to practice in Mississippi. with a few more rainbows and alot less beurocracy we may be able to fix a thing badly in need if repair, our country.

We want to work with you. call us soon!

..I tip my hat to you all that have responded to the need as well..I may even forgive you for that incident back at Travis AFB Calif. in May 1969..when I was just a young Marine doing what was asked of me by my country..we that served our nation above all understand the concept of what it is like to want to live in a world with out war..You are all doing a fine job..Thank You and Keep it up..

Way to go, Rainbow People. I love you all. Thanks so much from a transplanted MS Coast native.

Attorney Brian Michaels has been practice law in Eugene, Oregon for over a dozen years. He is licensed to practice in State, Federal & Supreme Courts. His practice focuses on criminal defense, constitutional law, Mass Gathering, and Land Use.
Attorney Michaels, is associated with a group/gathering of the Rainbow Family (http://welcomehome.org/rainbow/index.html). Mid November, he is going to Waveland, MS & NO to work with this group serving Thanksgiving dinner and aiding relief work.. They are running New Waveland Café & N.O. Welcome Home Café (http://www.remarelief.net/)
His office has organized donations of supplies and money. Brian spoke to Stone and Arjay, October 31 and was told that all of the help/aid has moved out of the area. They are now the only place left serving hot meals and providing medical care to both relief workers and casualties al through donations. People’s hopes are dwindling and the holidays are happening please help out!

Welcome to Waveland, Mississippi, where a thirty foot wall of water and 150 mph winds have forever altered the physical and cultural landscape of this devastated gulf coast community. Located at Katrina Ground Zero, the New Waveland Cafe serves free hot meals and good vibes from the parking lot of Fred's Discount Store located at 790 US Rt. 90 to the good people of Waveland, MS, as they dig out of the rubble and rebuild their community.

259 East 5th Avenue Suite 300-D,
contact: Sephra at 541-687-0020
Legal Assistant For Attorney Michaels

For information see the links below:


You may call it an un-organization but it looks like it could teach FEMA the meaning of the term anyway.

Hi everybody,

I was at New Waveland Cafe for about 3 wks. Everyone was awesome, The Rainbow People, Dusty and Onyx Robin, Floppy, Pete and Faye, Goat and the others. Also, all the church grps and individuals who just came from all over. W/i 12 Hrs from arriving I had Goat' yellow tent sleeping bag and hot food and friends. What a great group!

un-organization?...i do not understand help someone and you will be helped in your time of need...did none of you fokes ever chase the dead? GO FOR IT RAINBOW we love ya!

This is my home and I love it. If it hadn't been for the rainbow un-organization and others we would not have made it. If the government would take a few tips form people such as this we could be on our way to recovery by now.

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