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.
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.”
Trackbacks are links to weblogs that reference this post. Like comments, trackbacks do no appear until approved by us. The trackback URL for this post is: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b0aa69e200d83467e2a953ef