When Katrina hit, like many people, I was deeply affected by what was going on there. Although I live in Atlanta and work at the UPS Corporate office, I felt like I needed to do something. So when I received an e-mail asking for volunteers to reopen the New Orleans package facility, I jumped at the opportunity. I left the day after Thanksgiving, about two months after the storm.
I knew things were going to be strange when on my first night, we got off the exit ramp to the facility and were stopped by U.S. Army Reservists carrying machine guns. We showed our UPS ID’s and they let us pass. It was soon clear why the heavy security was needed – the surrounding area was abandoned. There were homes there, but they were visibly damaged and debris was everywhere. Trash was in huge piles. Cars were strewn all over, in ditches and in the middle of the road. It looked like a war zone. Everyone in the immediate area had been evacuated and still had not returned.
Upon entering the facility, we could see the waterline on the walls, 9 feet high. I worked the twilight sort and preload from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. for three weeks, including Sunday’s. I had one day off. Even though I had never worked in the operation, on my second day I was put in charge of a bay with ten rental trucks, and given two helpers to load them. Many of the package cars had been relocated out of the danger zone, so we had to use moving trucks instead. With a skeleton crew, the packages came fast and furious, but we threw ourselves into the task at hand. Working a double shift (sort and preload) for that many days in a row really wore me out; my knees were on fire for the last week. But I pushed through the pain to get the job done, because I knew it was for a good cause.
Everyone I worked with was from another part of the country, including the drivers. We all had answered the call to get the packages moving again in New Orleans. Since people were just starting to come back home, and were desperately in need of supplies, we felt that the packages we were getting out were incredibly important.
There are a few key things that really stick with me from that experience. First, I am thankful for what I have. But for the grace of God, it can be taken away, as it was for so many good people in New Orleans. And I saw the power of pulling together to get things done under difficult circumstances. I was glad to do my small part to help New Orleans get back on its feet. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.