Fact Check

So I Volunteered

E-mails by a volunteer relief worker detail behavior of New Orleans evacuees?

Published Sept. 16, 2005


Claim:   E-mails by a volunteer relief worker detail behavior of New Orleans evacuees.

Status:   Undetermined.

Examples:   [Collected on the Internet, 2005]

I thought I might inform the few friends I have on my recent traumatic experience. I am going to tell it straight, blunt, raw, and I don't give a damn. Long read, I know but please do read!

I went to volunteer on Saturday at the George R. Brown convention for two reasons.

A: I wanted to help people to get a warm fuzzy.
B: Curiosity.

I've been watching the news lately and have seen scenes that have made me want to vomit. And no it wasn't dead bodies, the city under water, or the sludge everywhere. It was PEOPLE'S BEHAVIOR. The people on T.V. (99% being Black) were DEMANDING help. They were not asking nicely but demanding as
if society owed these people something. Well the honest truth is WE DON'T.

Help should be asked for in a kind manner and then appreciated. This is not what the press (FOX in particular) was showing, what I was seeing was a group of people who are yelling, demanding, looting, killing, raping, and SHOOTING back at the demanded help! So I'm thinking this can't possibly be true can it? So I decide to submit to the DEMAND for help out of SHOCK. I couldn't believe this to be true of the majority of the people who are the weakest of society. So I went to volunteer and help folks out and see the truth. So I will tell the following story and you decide:

I arrived at the astrodome only to find out that there are too many volunteers and that volunteers were needed at the George R. Brown Convention Center. As I was walking up to the Convention Center I noticed
a line of cars that wrapped around blocks filled with donations. These were ordinary Houstonians coming with truckloads and trunks full of water, diapers, clothes, blankets, food, all types of good stuff. And lots of it
was NEW. I felt that warm fuzzy while helping unload these vehicles of these wonderful human beings. I then went inside the building and noticed approximately 100,000 sq. ft. of clothes, shoes, jackets, toys and all types of goodies all organized and ready for the people in need. I signed up, received a name badge and was on my merry way excited to be useful.

I toured the place to get familiar with my surrounding; the entire place is probably around 2 million sq. ft. I noticed rows as far as the eye can see of mattresses, not cots, BLOW UP MATTRESSES! All of which had nice pillows and plenty of blankets. 2 to 3 bottles of water lay on every bed. These full size to queen size beds by the way were comfortable, I laid on one to see for myself. I went to look at the medical area. I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing! A makeshift hospital created in 24 hours! It was unbelievable, they even had a pharmacy. I also noticed that they created showers, which would also have hot water. I went upstairs to the third floor to find a HUGE cafeteria created in under 24 hours! Rows of tables, chairs and food everywhere - enough to feed an army! I'm not talking about crap food either. They had Jason's Deli food, apples, oranges, coke, diet coke, lemonade, orange juice, cookies, all types of
chips and sandwiches. All the beverages by the way was put on ice and chilled! In a matter of about 24 hours or less an entire mini-city was erected by volunteers for the poor evacuees. This was not your rundown crap shelter, it was BUM HEAVEN.

So that was the layout: great food, comfy beds, clean showers, free medical help, by the way there was a library, and a theatre room I forgot to mention. Great stuff right?

Well here is what happened on my journey -

I started by handing out COLD water bottles to evacuees as they got off the bus. Many would take them and only 20% or less said thank you. Lots of them would shake their heads and ask for sodas! So this went on for about 20-30 minutes until I was sick of being an unappreciated servant. I figured certainly these folks would appreciate some food! So I went upstairs to serve these beloved evacuees some GOOD food that I wish I could have at the moment!

The following statements are graphic, truthful, and discuss UNRATIONAL behavior. Evacuees come slowly to receive this mountain of food that is worth serving to a king! I tell them that we have 2 types of great deli sandwiches to choose from - ham and turkey. Many look at the food in disgust and DEMAND burgers, pizza, and even McDonalds! Jason's deli is better than McDonalds! Only 1 out of ten people who took something would say "thank you" the rest took items as if it was their God give right to be served without a shred of appreciation! They would ask for beer and

They complained that we didn't have good enough food. They refused food and laughed at us. They treated us volunteers as if we where SLAVES. No not all of them of course... but 70% did! 20% where appreciative, 10% took the food without any comment and the other 70% had some disgusting comment
to say. Some had the nerve to laugh at us. And when I snapped back at them for being mean, they would curse at me! Needless to say I was in utter shock.

They would eat their food and leave their mess on the table... some would pick up their stuff, many would leave it for the volunteers to pick up. I left that real quick to go down and help set up some more beds. I saw many young ladies carrying mattresses and I helped for a while. Then I realized something... there were hundreds of able bodied young men who could help! I asked a group of young evacuees in their teens and early twenties to help.

I got cursed at for asking them to help! One said "We just lost our ****ing homes and you want us to work!" The next said "Ya Cracker, you got a home we don't" I looked at them in disbelief. Here are women
walking by carrying THEIR ****ING BEDS and they can't lift a finger and help themselves!


I waved them off and turned away and was laughed at and more "white boy jokes" where made at me. I felt no need to waste my breath on a bunch of pitiful losers. I went to a nearby restroom where I noticed a man shaving.

I used the restroom, washed my hands and saw this man throw his razor towards the trash can... he missed... he walked out leaving his disgusting razor on the floor for some other "cracker" to pick up. Even the little kids were demanding. I saw only ONE white family and only TWO Hispanic families.

The rest where blacks...sorry 20% to 30% decent blacks... and 70% LOSERS! I would call them ******S, but the actual definition of a ****** is one who is ignorant, these people were not ignorant......they were ARROGANT S. The majority of which are thugs and lifetime lazy ass welfare recipients. We are inviting the lowest of the low to Houston. And like idiots we are serving the people who will soon steal our cars, rape, murder, and destroy our city while stealing from our pockets on a daily basis through the welfare checks they take. We will fund our own destruction.

By "US" I don't mean a specific race, I mean the people who work hard, work smart, have values and morals. Only people who want to help themselves should be helped, the others should be allowed to destroy themselves. I do not want to work hard, give the government close to half the money I earn so they can in turn give it to a bunch of losers.

I don't believe in being poor for life. My family immigrated here, we came here poor, and now thank God, and due to HARD WORK we are doing fine. If immigrants, who come here, don't know the language can work and become successful... WHY THE **** CAN'T THE MAJORITY OF THE HOMEGROWN DO IT!

If we continue to reward these losers then we will soon destroy our great country. I just witnessed selfish, arrogant, unappreciative behavior by the very people who need help the most. Now these same people who cursed me, refused my cities generosity, who refuse to help themselves are DEMANDING handouts on their own terms! They prance around as if they are owed something, and when they do receive a handout, they say it's not good enough! Well you know what......these types of people can go to hell for
all I care!

A little information you won't read in the papers. I can only relate what was told to me by my daughter who works for AA [American Airlines] as a flight attendant. AA donated the planes and fuels. The crews, cabin crews and all people that worked on the ground were volunteers.

One flight was a 757 to MSY and back to DFW. This flight was to evacuate AA personnel and anyone else that they could get aboard. They flew in relief supplies including bottled water. On the return flight the survivors, not AA personnel were griping that there was no food or drinks. There was water at the water fountains. There was a lot of griping that the AA people filled up first class, now mind you they didn't pay a dime.

When they got back to DFW the people were put up in the flight academy hotel and fed some where in the training center. These people didn't like this arrangement so they trashed the hotel. As far as damage was
concerned I have no idea. AA got a hold of the relief authorities and had these people removed.

AA volunteered 6 flights a day from SAT to MSY. I'm not sure which AF base they flew out of but were able to buy military fuel. On inbound flights they carried all of the relief supplies they could and had to
tanker in fuel for the return flight. On several flights the people were not happy that their ass had been evacuated because there was no food or drink. Some of the cabin crews decided to buy bottle water on their own to help the people on their extremely long 1.5 hour flight. Now this gave the passengers, if they can be called that, who fought over the first class seats, some thing to throw at the cabin people while they was trashing the plane.

Several of the volunteers informed AA that they had had it and they weren't going anymore. AA threatened to cancel the trips if this could not be controlled. I'm not sure just how this turned out but here is more
irony. The relief agency that they were working through wanted AA to bring in a 777 so more supplies could be flown in at once and more people evacuated. After talking to AA I hope they are not holding their breath. Long but, put it under the truth is stranger than fiction file. I know Viet people didn't act this way and they were going to strange land.

Origins:   Within a few days of evacuees from New Orleans arriving in Houston to be temporarily housed at the Astrodome and the George R. Brown Convention Center, we began receiving the 'So I volunteered . . .' account quoted as the first example above. Most versions were prefaced with the claim that it came "from a guy here in Houston that went to volunteer his time to help the hurricane victims." It presents the evacuees as lazy, arrogant, welfare rats with an inflated sense of entitlement, thereby calling into question the rightness of assisting


That e-mailed report regarding the attitude and behavior of evacuees doesn't seem to jibe with the experience of Rick Barrett, a volunteer who served at the Astrodome. According to his account, he found people "were so grateful for people taking care of them and being there for them after what they'd been through" and "their eyes lit up when you just gave them a cold can of Coke." Additional reports from other volunteers at the Astrodome describe kindly, supportive, and touching interactions between volunteers and evacuees.

We've looked at other blog entries from volunteers working with the evacuees in Houston only to find that among the ones we located there is no mention of arrogance or a rampaging sense of entitlement among the evacuees, no description of trashed washrooms or food spurned because it wasn't what the displaced citizens from New Orleans wanted. While it is possible the author of the much-circulated account did encounter the behavior and attitudes he chronicled, one has to wonder why even outside the confines of mainstream media other mentions of similar ill-treatment of the volunteers and the facilities are so hard to come by.

Instead, stories abound of what it's like to be living in one of the many centers the uprooted have been taken to, such as Kristin Finan's account of spending the night as an evacuee and an Associated Press article about a day in the lives of Kiesha and Darren Keller, two of the many temporarily housed at the Astrodome. Those stories and others paint a very different picture of the evacuees.

The "So I volunteered . . ." editorial was penned as a MySpace entry on 4 September 2005 by a blogger named Maher, who describes himself as a 24-year-old living in North Houston who immigrated to the U.S. from Syria when he was five. He insists he stands by his report.

The piece has subsequently become associated with a doctor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Richard L. Johnston came to be presumed its author after forwarding the item to his circle of friends, who in turn forwarded it to others, leaving Johnston's signature block affixed. Dr. Johnston disavows his connection:

My name is Richard L. Johnston. I'm the physician who allegedly wrote the long email about my experience at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston where Katrina evacuees from New Orleans were housed.

I've never been to the George R. Brown Convention Center, and I have not been to Houston in more than 10 years. During the crisis of the last two weeks, I've been here in Jackson, Mississippi, taking care of evacuees from the Gulf Coast transferred to our VA Medical Center here where I'm the chief medical resident.

I did not write the email about the Brown Convention Center, but I did receive it and did forward it to several friends. The forwarded message included my signature block and that's why it was assumed that I wrote the email. However, in forwarding the message, I made a very bad error in judgment, and I deeply apologize for any hurt or discomfort I've caused others by doing so.

I've learned a hard and difficult lesson and I hope those of you who read this have also. Too much of what we all mindlessly forward through cyberspace can only be termed fictious, unsubstantiated trash. The
appropriate receptacle is a garbage can.

Regarding the second item quoted in our Examples section above, numerous airlines began flying supplies and personnel into New Orleans and refugees out on 2 September. Some of the first planes ferried in law enforcement officers, federal air marshals, and Transportation Security Administration screeners.

The various airlines are engaging in this effort on their own. Jack Evans, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, said FEMA agreed to reimburse the airlines for jet fuel used in the airlift, "but other than that, the airlines are doing this on a volunteer basis. The crews on board are all volunteers."

Once again, we've so far found nothing to substantiate the claims made in the e-mail that refugees being flown out of New Orleans (MSY is the airport code for the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport) to Texas (DFW is the code for the Dallas/Fort Worth airport; SAT the code for San Antonio) behaved in the manner described, neither that they trashed a hotel in San Antonio nor that they threw bottled water at cabin personnel.

Regarding the second e-mail's claim that there was water to be had by the evacuees in the airport before taking the flights they supposedly acted so badly on:

I work at MSY (New Orleans Intl) for the New Orleans Aviation Board. Regarding comment "There was water at the water fountains" is inaccurate. Yes, there was water, but it was not drinkable. I placed the "do not drink" signs there over every water fountain on American Airlines concourse myself.

Both e-mails tend to confirm a widely-held suspicion those evacuated from the wreckage of New Orleans are the dregs of society, content to live on handouts even as they verbally abuse those doing the handing out. Such characterization tends to fit more neatly into what people need to believe if they are to feel good about scaling back on the relief efforts underway — by convincing themselves recipients of their largesse are both unworthy and ungrateful, they will find it less painful to disassociate themselves than if the victims of Katrina remained in their minds sweet-faced little children, befuddled but lovable grandfathers, and struggling families who lost it all and now have nothing.

Regarding the Katrina evacuees, there are going to be abuses of the kindness of others because that is simply human nature: among any group, there will always be rotten apples, those who behave badly no matter where they are or under what circumstances. The question remains whether among this particular group if the rotten apples are the exception or comprise the majority.

Barbara "apples weigh" Mikkelson

Last updated:   23 September 2005

  Sources Sources:

    Finan, Kristin.   "Spending the Night as a Storm Evacuee."

    Houston Chronicle.   9 September 2005.

    Lewan, Todd.   "A Refugee's Day."

    Associated Press.   11 September 2005.

    Miller, Leslie.   "Airlines' Voluntary Relief Effort Begins."

    Associated Press.   2 September 2005.

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