Every weekday after Lauds and Mass I would board the Canal Streetcar and head to Rampart Street at the edge of the French Quarter to the St. Jude Community Center, across the street from the International Shrine of St. Jude in New Orleans, LA. St. Jude’s provides meals, education, housing, and dignity to the poor and homeless of New Orleans. This past summer I was able to volunteer in the soup kitchen and food pantry.
Perhaps the most recent event for which New Orleans is most well known is the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is very common to hear people talk about Katrina. Although this hurricane and the subsequent flooding happened in August of 2005, its aftereffects can still be seen today in the many vacant houses and businesses throughout the city.
Katrina, as the 2005 event is most commonly called, is a bond that all New Orleanians share. The poor that come to St. Jude’s, the volunteers, the benefactors, the friars that I lived with all have stories, all have a connection, a point where their lives came together and were united. There is a palpable spirit in the people of New Orleans that allows the cheerfulness, the optimism, the positivity to shine through what are oftentimes grueling circumstances.
The volunteers as well as those that benefit from St. Jude Community Center embody the resilient spirit that is alive and well in New Orleans. Most of my time at St. Jude’s was spent with other volunteers preparing meals for the soup kitchen or helping assemble boxes of food for the food pantry. Teamwork and ingenuity are the elements that make St. Jude’s an effective operation with the goal of bringing the love of God to the poor and homeless through a warm meal and a caring attitude. The love and generosity of the volunteers, but also of the poor and homeless is inspiring. The people willingly shared their stories with me, but also with each other.
No matter what the story or the circumstances, there was always a feeling of hope. I remember one woman specifically, after telling about her life before Katrina, her experience during and after the storm, and her current situation she said, “God brought me and so many other people through Katrina and those waters, God is providing this food for me now, and I have no doubt that He has a bright future in store.” New Orleans may be well known for Katrina, but the inspiring faith of its people will be with me forever.