Hunger in New Orleans

Hunger in New Orleans

Questions and Answers for Second Harvest Food Bank New Orleans

by Laura Bergerol

October 1, 2014

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Terri Kaupp of Second Harvest New Orleans, about hunger in New Orleans. Full disclosure, because we live in a technology driven world, the discussion wasn’t verbal, but was instead done electronically by me asking questions about hunger, and by Terri, answering them. While not the same as a discussion in person, it was the easiest way to make this happen, since our lives tend to be hectic and over busy. Additionally, Second Harvest of New Orleans and Acadiana does not have the ability to break out the numbers for New Orleans vs South Louisiana. So not only do they cover the New Orleans metro area, but they also cover 23 parishes in South Louisiana up to the state lines of Texas and Mississippi.

In asking questions of Second Harvest, I wanted to

1) Understand if hunger in New Orleans is different than in other communities, 

2) Assess the impact that Second Harvest has on the problem of hunger in New Orleans. and

3) Find ways that individuals and businesses can help Second Harvest.

My questions for Second Harvest;

1) From what I have read, 1 in 6 people in America face hunger. How many in New Orleans?

Currently the statistics nationally matches the numbers in New Orleans; one in six households in Louisiana are at risk of hunger, and more worrisome is that 1 in 5 CHILDREN are at risk of hunger in Louisiana.

2) How many seniors are using food banks in New Orleans (and Lafayette) to subsidize their pantries? Where is Second Harvest most helpful for seniors? Adult day care facilities? Meals on Wheels for shut ins/disabled?

Approximately 42,000 seniors per year are served through food pantries and residential care centers. Most people don’t often realize just how vulnerable our seniors are. We also try to provide the types of foods they need due to diet/medical needs (low sodium, etc) We are not currently associated with the Meals on Wheels program – however that is something we would like to work with one day. Meals on Wheels currently has a yearly contract with a vendor – we at Second Harvest, hope that one day we can bid for this contract and provide meals to Seniors

3) Are there programs implemented in any of the New Orleans schools that send food home with children for the weekend? If not, are there plans to implement these programs?

Second Harvest Food Bank actually runs the Backpack Program – this is a program that sends backpacks with food/shelf stable milk/juice home with children identified by teachers/school administrators as “MOST AT-RISK” of not having enough food over the weekend. Currently 1700 children at 32 schools participate in this program that operates in 13 parishes.

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Backpack kids; Second Harvest New Orleans

Backpack kids; Second Harvest New Orleans

4) Households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children in 2011. 20.6 percent vs. 12.2 percent. How many families do you usually see monthly in New Orleans?

Approximately 22,400 households per month in our 23 parish service area.(we currently don’t have the ability to break out by parish.)

5) 50.1 million Americans struggle to put food on the table. In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty. More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3.What are the statistics in New Orleans? Is it hunger higher in African Americans homes, or in the Latino population?

Currently we serve: 33% White, 59% African American and 4% Latino clients in our 23 parish service area (the remaining 4% are of other ethnic backgrounds)

6) What happens in the summer? How does Second Harvest make up for smaller monetary donations during the summer?

This summer, Second Harvest once again provided breakfast, lunch and for some participating sites snacks for 4,270 children at 66 locations across the greater New Orleans area. This Summer Feeding Program provided 210,266 meals (breakfast, lunch, snacks) over the course of 9 weeks. We couldn’t run this program without the commitment from such wonderful partners as the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, ConAgra Foundation, USDA and Louisiana Department of Education. Second Harvest Food Bank runs the LARGEST summer feeding program in the state.

7) Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day. Less than half of them get breakfast and only 10 percent have access to summer feeding sites. For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and just 36 summer food programs. Does Second Harvest have a breakfast program for hungry children? How many can they help? What is your lunch program like in Orleans Parish? Explain more about your Backpack program?

Unfortunately, we don’t offer a breakfast program – that is already offered as part of the Federal free/reduced meal program. Second Harvest provides “supper” for children in after-school programs, after-care, etc – the program just launched on September 8 for the 2014-15 school year. Right now we have 33 afterschool sites enrolled (several more are pending approval from the state.) These children will receive a nutritious, hot meal prepared fresh every day. We do not FRY any of our items, all nutrition guidelines from the USDA are followed including using whole grain pasta, brown rice and wheat rolls. Every day the children get 2% milk and fresh fruit (apples/oranges) with their meals. We hope that we are able to introduce them to foods they may not be getting at home – baked Tilapia is one of their favorites.

8) 1 in 7 people are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly half of them are children. Has it gotten worse in New Orleans and South Louisiana since Governor Jindal refused extra money as part of Obamacare programs?

No, these two programs are not directly related. However, November 1st the expiration of the ARRA funding did directly affect SNAP. A family of four saw a reduction of approximately $36 in SNAP benefits. Most people don’t think that $36 is a lot, however when your SNAP benefit is just over $100 – that $36 means several meals were taken away from families. Since that cut, our partner agencies and Second Harvest has seen an increase in need for emergency food assistance.

9) 40% percent of food is thrown out in the US every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans. What are the rules for restaurants in New Orleans?? Is there a worry about liability if food not ok? How many restaurants in New Orleans actually help with leftover foods? Could this program be extended? Does Second Harvest have partnerships with restaurants in New Orleans?

This is a very tricky area – While there are many restaurants who would like to help and donate unused food to Second Harvest, this is something we have to be careful with due to food safety. Also, we need a higher volume in order to make this worthwhile. We do have a “Retail Pick up Program” that works with local grocery stores that picks up items that may not be bad but needs to be removed from the shelf such as milk close to the expiration date. Technically the milk is still good and we can pick up those items (milk, bakery items such as bread, cakes from grocery bakeries, yogurt, milk, cheese, juice and produce). We are able to put these items on our mobile pantry trucks (refrigerated) and distribute immediately. These monthly mobile pantries distribute about 3-5 days of food to 150-200 households – we do approximately 37 mobile pantries a month between the Greater New Orleans area and Lafayette. In FY 14 we picked up 9.9 MILLION pounds of food – this is approximately 1/3 of the food we distribute on an annual basis (25 million pounds in FY 14 equivalent to 22.5 million meals). Through Feeding America we also pick up the end of day bread/baked goods from Panera locations in our service area as well as Texas Toast ends from Raising Canes. These are given to agencies such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters who feed large amounts of people daily.

10) What new programs will Second Harvest implement this year? How can individuals help? How much do corporate sponsors contribute to the annual monies for Second Harvest?

We are about to launch a new School Pantry program in two schools in Orleans parish this fall – just finishing up the paper work to implement. This will put a pantry twice a month at two local schools in areas that have over 95% enrollment in the Federal Free/Reduced meal program. This program will have an actual pantry for parents to access on distribution day – they will be able to access it after-school when picking up their children and won’t have to worry about being off of work during distribution times that might be during the middle of the work day.

A way to help Second Harvest currently;

Currently Second Harvest is participating in a contest to win $60,000 for Second Harvest, as well as money for their partners; You can vote daily but the contest ends on October 5, 2014.

Volunteering with Second Harvest Food Bank; If you would like to volunteer with Second Harvest, call the main number 504-734-1322 and ask to speak to our volunteer services coordinators. We have opportunities during the week, some evening shifts, and shifts in the Community Kitchen plating and packing hot meals for the Kids Cafe program.

Facts about Second Harvest Food Bank:

Second Harvest Food Bank is leading the fight against hunger and building food security in South Louisiana by providing food access, advocacy, education and disaster response.  Second Harvest provides food to 300 partner agencies and direct food access to community members in need across 23 parishes, from the Mississippi border to the Texas state line. Together, we make up the largest anti-hunger network in the state. With our community’s help, we can make food security a reality for every household in South Louisiana.

Second Harvest Food Bank is an affiliated ministry of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, a member of Feeding America, and a United Way Partner Agency. To join us in the fight to end hunger, please visit Follow us on Twitter at, fan us on Facebook at or Instagram at @2ndHarvestGNOA.

Homeless in New Orleans

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In New Orleans, a city that has seen more than its share of destruction, devastation, and upheaval in the last nine years, “being homeless” is decidedly different than in other major cities in the US. After Katrina and Rita hit New Orleans, many residents living in the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard, became “homeless” (“storm displaced homeless”) due to the destruction of houses and rental properties. Katrina displaced over a million people from the gulf coast across the United States. The number of “storm displaced homeless” dropped as people were able to fix their homes (as money from the “Road Home program” and insurance companies became available) and reestablish their lives. It is estimated that the number of “chronically homeless” people living in New Orleans prior to Katrina was 6,000. That number doubled between August 29, 2005 and mid-2007. At that time, with a post-Katrina population of 300,000 people, one in twenty five (1 in 25) people were homeless, (a number three times that of any US city.) A “chronically homeless” individual is defined by US Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) as someone who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years and has a disability.

Some of the first businesses to re-open in New Orleans after Katrina were restaurants, bars, and hotels (“hospitality industry”) and the demand for minimum wage workers became great. Many workers that took  these jobs found it difficult to find a place to live in New Orleans, since rentals were extremely scarce after Katrina. Some got FEMA trailer’s that they could use on their land, until their houses were fixed, though life was not easy, living in FEMA trailers. In fact, it was later determined that the FEMA trailers had significant issues with formaldehyde, causing multiple health issues for people living in the trailers. A class action lawsuit resulted in a $42.6 million settlement in 2012.

In 2007, a large group of homeless residents moved to Duncan Plaza (across the street from New Orleans City Hall) to draw attention to the difficulties that people with low incomes and the homeless in New Orleans faced daily. Since Katrina and Rita destroyed much of New Orleans’s affordable housing, housing that previously might have been available to people with low incomes, was not. Further, rents that might have been affordable in “pre-Katrina” New Orleans had often doubled and tripled, leaving the working poor without alternatives. Additionally, the City of New Orleans seemed disinclined to help the “working poor” in New Orleans, even though the city badly needed the income and revenues that the hospitality industry, and its workers could bring. In fact, Mayor Ray Nagin suggested that a way to reduce the City of New Orleans post-Katrina homeless population, was to give them one-way bus tickets out of town. Nagin, of course, later recanted his comments, insisting that it was simply an “off the cuff joke” (see New York Times article dated May 28, 2008 but the day-to-day reality was that Mayor Nagin and the City of New Orleans, never appeared to have a plan to deal with the homeless, much less implementation, if such a plan even existed. Mayor Nagin believed that the homeless in New Orleans after Katrina were alcoholic, drug abusing, transients who refused shelter; and that belief was pervasive throughout the eight years of his tenure as mayor of New Orleans. In actuality, a survey by local advocacy groups in 2008, showed that 86% of the homeless on the streets of New Orleans, were from New Orleans, 60% were homeless due to Katrina, and 30% had received some form of rental assistance from FEMA since Katrina.

Sadly, as time passed (and administrations changed,) the homeless of New Orleans have received mediocre treatment  at best, from the City of New Orleans. Life on the streets of New Orleans is decidedly unsafe for the homeless and there have been numerous attacks on the homeless, including robbery, beatings, battery, rape, and murder. After the Duncan Plaza encampment was forced to move in January 2008, similar sites continued to surface in New Orleans which was not surprising. By forcing people to move from a camp site, the City of New Orleans began a dangerous game of “cat and mouse” that ignored the real issue that there was simply not enough affordable rental housing available. From 2008 to present, homeless camps continue to appear in various locations in New Orleans, often underneath overpasses including under the I-10 overpass on N. Claiborne Avenue, near Canal Street, and beneath Pontchartrain Expressway, near Calliope and Baronne Street. By my count, after reviewing numerous newspaper stories from 2008 to present, there have been at least fifteen (15) times that the City of New Orleans have forced these homeless sites to move. In October 2011, the Occupy movement came to New Orleans to express their displeasure with the disparate wealth distribution. They began their stay by peacefully marching through New Orleans, and then took up residence in Duncan Plaza in New Orleans. Their stay in Duncan Plaza was relatively calm and without incident during the months of October and November 2011, though a homeless man was found dead in his tent early November 2011, due to alcohol poisoning. On December 6, 2011, the City of New Orleans evicted the Occupy NOLA protesters from Duncan Plaza via a pre-dawn visit from the NOPD. Twelve hours later, U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey granted the Occupy New Orleans group a temporary restraining order allowing it to move back into the park, directly across from City Hall where it had been for approximately two months. The restraining order was overturned a week later, and Duncan Plaza was once again cleared.

In fairness to the City of New Orleans, there have been numerous initiatives that the City of New Orleans has introduced and touted as “cures” for the homeless issues in New Orleans. On July 4, 2014, Mayor Landrieu announced a goal to end homelessness among veterans in New Orleans by end of 2014. In September 2013 Mayor Landrieu announced the successful placement of 244 chronically homeless and vulnerable homeless individuals in 100 days as part of the 200 Homes in 100 Days Campaign. In fact there appears to be at least one initiative per year that claims to help the homeless, but what these plans fail to address over and over, is the dire need for affordable housing, so that people in vulnerable financial situations do not end up having to live on the streets of New Orleans.

On August 12, 2014, the NOPD, the City of New Orleans, and the New Orleans Department of Health, began yet another campaign of forcing the current homeless camp under Pontchartrain Expressway to move (by 8/14/14.)  The City of New Orleans used the terms public health hazard as it’s reason for forcing the move, but there was a rumor that the real reason for this particular campaign was that the Saints first exhibition game at home was on 8/15/14, and the city didn’t want people to see the eyesore that the homeless camp represented. Whatever the reason, the homeless were moved out by the end of the day on 8/14/14, and the city’s health director said the area was closed due to trash and filth that attracted rats which the city couldn’t clean and put out rat poison, with homeless living there. On Saturday, August 16th, I was in the area around Calliope and Baronne, so I went to see what had changed. There were numerous signs stating that the area had been declared a health hazard by the New Orleans Department of Health; further the signs said that anyone who parked in that area would be towed. There were also numerous  barricades everywhere. But as I drove by, I saw just as many homeless as before; they had simply moved a couple blocks further towards Tchoupitoulas. I took photos and talked to a few of the people who said they were “resigned” to what had happened; they thought it made no sense, but felt they had no say in how things go in New Orleans. I went back again Wednesday August 20th, to see if things were different; it was 90 degrees and 90% humidity at 4:30 that day, so I brought bananas, water, and chips. As I handed the water out, I asked how things had changed. Most people simply smiled at me and said thank you for the water, but when I asked if the NOPD were bothering them, I finally got a response from a man who told me “No ma’am, as long as we stay on our spot, they are ok.” When I asked what he meant by spot, he pointed to the sidewalk outside of the areas that were barricaded. Apparently, as long as they stay on the sidewalk and don’t try to move inside the barricades, they have a “right” to be there, and the NOPD will leave them alone. I shook my head and told him I was sorry. But I was truly appalled that on a day that was unbearably hot, even in the shade, that the City of New Orleans was forcing the homeless to stand or sit in the sun, rather than allowing them to move to the shadier area inside the barricades. I know that there are no easy answers, but it seems to me that the City of New Orleans badly needs to re-examine its plans for dealing with the homeless to try to figure out a way to help its most vulnerable residents.

Art in Ruin; a K plus nine personal photo project

Art in Ruin is a new personal photography project by Laura Bergerol. It is timed to be ready by 8/29/14 (the ninth anniversary of Katrina making land in New Orleans.) My inspiration for this project began with a house that I noticed several weeks ago on Earhart Expressway, that was colorful and cheerful. When I went back to investigate, I realized that though the house was decaying, someone had painted wonderful things on it; and it looked as if it was ready to dance on Mardi Gras day. After I noticed the first house, I did more research and realized that there are many houses and buildings in New Orleans, that have also been “made beautiful” both by human hands, and by nature. When I went to photograph them, I realized that there was a “strong chance” that many of these houses will disappear into dust (some sooner than others) as their structures are less than stable, so the need to document them became more urgent. I suspect that this project may eventually expand to other cities, other than New Orleans, but for now, New Orleans gets my attention. I plan to offer a book of the photos, and all profits after cost will go to Animal Rescue New Orleans ( who have been rescuing and finding homes for the dogs and cats of New Orleans since Katrina. Eventually, there will be a website ( but for now the photos live on my photography site; Art in Ruin and on the Art in Ruin Facebook page; Facebook page.

I have shared photos, but as this is a work in progress, be sure to check back. art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin art in ruin

Sailing with Mount Gay Rum; TOTC 2012 is off to a huge start

My first 2012 Tales of the Cocktail event took place Tuesday July 24 at the Yacht Harbor in Lakeview here in New Orleans, and it was so much fun, though in true TOTC fashion, it was a marathon.  I spent the day photographing the sailing regatta with the Mount Gay crew and what a great time was had.  Here are some from this fun sailing event; and of course, wherever there is rum, water, and sailors, there is eye candy.

Mennonites in NOLA

Yesterday I had the pleasure to go a look at the ships that are in New Orleans for Fleet Week and while there, I took these photos and spoke to a remarkable group of women who are in town to help rebuild houses.  Almost seven years later, and the Mennonites are still here helping.  These ladies have been helping in New Orleans since Katrina! THANK YOU! Thank you! 

Hard Truths…..the art of Thornton Dial

“Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial”

Thornton Dial is a Southern American artist.  At the age of 83, Mr Dial has a body of work that is fascinating and completely different from most artwork that I have seen.  His collection of work opened at the New Orleans Museum of Art on March 2, 2012 and it will run throughMay 20, 2012. In my opinion, this is a must see exhibit; the work is strong, provocative and bold.

Mr. Dial was born into poverty and he is self-taught and illiterate, so his work was often classified as folk or outsider artist. But that classification has irritated many of his admirers, since his work’s resembles that of other contemporary masters of his time including Jackson Pollack and Robert Rauschenberg.

Mr. Dial’s inspiration for his art is due in part to observing yard art, which is a southern African-American tradition of building sculpture from discarded material. Yard art, could have plenty of subtle meaning – the soles of shoes could represent the souls of men. But yard art tended to purposely looked like a plain pile of junk so as to not draw the attention of hostile passers-by, especially prior to the era of civil rights, when such things could cause significant problems to a black man in the south.

His work focuses on issues that are part and parcel of his world, including slavery, war, terrorism, feminism, poverty, death and civil rights.  His piece called “High and Wide (Carrying the Rats to the Man) impressed me in its usage of a grinning Mickey Mouse toy chained to the hull of a ship. You, at once, see the humor and the sadness that permeates throughout Mr. Dial’s work.

The show also includes his piece “Don’t Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got to Tie Us Together” a striking work that appears to be made from bloodied American flags.

I had the pleasure to speak with Mr. Dial’s grandson at the opening, Thornton Dial III, and I asked him what it was like to grow up with a grandfather that made art.  He replied that “since his grandfather had always made art, it did not seem to be so unusual. It was only in later years that he began to realize that not everyone’s grandfathers made art, especially the art that his grandfather made.”  I could sense the pride in his grandfather and it was totally understandable.  Indeed, creativity continues to play a central role in the lives of the Dial family as a number of the Dial children and grandchildren carry on the rich art tradition.

There are a total of forty pieces of Thornton Dial’s work included in the exhibit at NOMA, and there are other pieces of folk art that NOMA gathered from its folk art collection which are located in the museum’s entrance hall. Thornton Dial’s work is vibrant and evocative…it makes you question what you know. In my mind that is exactly what good art should do and it is what makes this a must see exhibit!

What: An exhibit of more than 40 large-scale, politically charged paintings, drawings and sculptures by one  of America’s premier self-taught artists.

Where: TheNew OrleansMuseumof Art,1 Collins Diboll Circle,CityPark, 504.658.4100. Visit

Admission: Adults, $10; seniors, students and active military, $8; children 6 to 17, $6; younger, free. Wednesdays free.

Occupy NOLA

Last Thursday the Occupy Wall Street movement made it to New Orleans.  

With signs ranging from End the War to Government is Organized Crime, the message of the protesters was at times hard to fathom. To be frank, I all but dismissed them as an oddity that was interesting to photograph, but not something that I took seriously.  As I thought and read more about the movement, I came across a great Op Ed in the NY Times yesterday that helped me put into words what I was seeing.  “As the Occupy Wall Street protests spread from Lower Manhattan to Washington and other cities, the chattering classes keep complaining that the marchers lack a clear message and specific policy prescriptions. The message — and the solutions — should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention since the economy went into a recession that continues to sock the middle class while the rich have recovered and prospered. The problem is that no one in Washington has been listening.”  The full opinion is here;

I was really glad that I found that link prior to posting these images….I have had some conversations recently with friends and acquaintances about the fact that this might be the hardest time to finish a college degree and enter the workforce than any other time in US history.  Imagine being twenty-two years old, with a fresh bachelors degree in hand, with numerous college loans that you needed to finance that degree, hanging over your head that you need to repay.  It is not a pretty sight just now here in the US for those individuals. Young college graduates still lag far behind older college-educated workers: 9.3% of them are unemployed, more than double the 4.7% unemployment rate for college graduates age 25 and older and the class of 2011 will likely face the highest unemployment rate for young college graduates since the Great Recession began. What a terrifying time to arrive in the US job market.

Add to the mix, the average American who has lost their trust in a government that bails out banks and Wall Street while ignoring the pain that the Wall Street fallout has caused to middle class America.  We are constantly being assailed by the profits that JP Morgan (successor to Bear Stearns) , AIG, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, the auto industry continue to make even after receiving extraordinary bailouts from the US. It seems unbelievable that the US government was forced to bailout such companies, at the expense of the American public who has had to endure job losses, home equity losses, a credit bubble that cost them their homes and jobs, while Wall Street has hummed merrily along, thanks to the bailout, and the politicians who were elected pledging to reform Wall Street continue to maintain the status quo, all while raking in money from the corporate sponsors they had pledged to reform.  Is it any wonder that the ordinary American is angry? When you factor these in, you begin to understand the need for such protests.  Indeed it has even been suggested that the Occupy Wall Street protests that are beginning to spread across the US, might even become similar to the 1960’s protest. Time will tell on that forecast.  For now, I think that the politicians, the pundits and the elite who are denouncing these protests should think twice about them; if you continue to bailout and coddle the rich while ignoring the middle class, the protests of the sixties could pale in comparison to these protests currently in their infancy.

The rest of my photos are here;

Swoon at NOMA-Thalassa

This is the 100th anniversary year of NOMA (the New Orleans Museum of Art.) They held an opening Friday, June 10th night for the artist known as Swoon, (real name Caledonia Dance Curry) and this exhibit  is an amazing piece of artwork and will be on exhibition from Friday, June 10th through September 25, 2011, so it plays an  important part in  NOMA’s centennial.

At first glance, Thalassa, as Swoon calls her work is confusing and busy; but as you look from different viewpoints, it becomes something else. It is lyrical, full of movement, and at times seemingly alive, thought it is mostly made up from paper,cardboard and paste.  It is colorful and fanciful and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves art; it is modern in it’s style, but it draws from impressionism, realism and other genres of art.

Swoon was inspired by New Orleans ties to the water; since we are a port city that depends on commerce, as well as a river and a gulf that sustained fishermen of the Gulf for centuries  ‘Thalassa’ is named after the Greek goddess revered as the mother of all sea creatures. The twenty-foot tall piece depicts a female deity with extended tentacles. The octopus-design of ‘Thalassa’ also echoes lore of the sea; that of the Lorelei who  ensnared men, women, and children. The piece reminds us of the past and present of New Orleans, and traces the tangled legacy of our connection to the port, the Mississippi River, and the gulf that can bring gifts or bring sadness, as we have learned in the year since the BP gulf oil spill.

I would highly recommend this exhibition to all; it would appeal to children as well as adults, as its whimsical tentacles swirl and move, and it is thought provoking enough to interest even the most jaded art critic.

Swoon’s ‘Thalassa’ will be on display in the Great Hall from June 10- September 25. Hours are as follows;

Tuesday (10:00 AM – 05:00 PM)
Wednesday (10:00 AM – 05:00 PM)
Thursday (10:00 AM – 05:00 PM)
Friday (10:00 AM – 05:00 PM)
Saturday (10:00 AM – 05:00 PM)
Sunday (10:00 AM – 05:00 AM)

Bury The Hatchet; The Film

Photo by Charlotte Hamrick

Saturday night I went to Chalmette to see “Bury the Hatchet” a new film by a talented filmmaker named Aaron Walker. According to their website  ( “Bury The Hatchet features three Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs in a dynamic portrait of the unique and endangered culture of New Orleans they represent as bearers of tradition, as artists and as musicians.” The site goes on to describe these descendants of runaway slaves given safe harbor by the Native American communities in the bayous of Louisiana. Practitioners of a tradition that is hundreds of year old, individuals sew elaborate costumes resembling those Native American traditions and participate parades that wind their way through the streets of New Orleans on Mardi Gras day singing traditional songs. These intricate traditions contribute another layer to New Orleans’ already rich musical vernacular. The filmmakers describe following these men through the streets, saying “We get to experience the vulnerability of the black community in New Orleans, from the destruction of middle class African-American neighborhoods to make way for an interstate highway, to the violence that once defined their culture, to police crackdowns, the reality of aging and death, and finally the absolute devastation of their community following Hurricane Katrina. While the Chiefs differ in many ways, their need to pass on their traditions drives all three men as they give schoolbooks to children, teach the craft of sewing and song, tell stories and give advice, and generally serve as informal leaders in their communities.”

I was impressed and moved by “Bury the Hatchet.”  I found it to be poignant and remarkable; especially due to the long time period that it tracked (Aaron Walker started filming in 2004, pre-Katrina and continued filming until 2009.)  Mr. Walker did an amazing job weaving the stories of the Mardi Gras Indian chiefs into the lore of New Orleans, pre and post Katrina, drawing the audience into their tales until we felt a part of the rich culture that makes up the Mardi Gras Indians parades, as well as the amazing larger and ever-changing history of New Orleans.

I watched this film with friends and quickly realized who got the message of this sweet film and who it was wasted upon; one stated that she did not like the film, felt it was derivative, and that she could simply “not understand why, when the people portrayed in the film lived in such ‘abject poverty’ (her words not mine) that they would spend $10,000 on making a new suit each year.” I vehemently objected to her comments and told her that the suits and everything that went into making them, was what made each person involved feel as if their life had meaning and value; their individual raison d’etre, if you will. Another friend echoed my words, and the first woman muttered that she still did not get it, before falling silent. Yes, she did not “get it.” That was evident.

The trip home felt long and tedious, as if all the joy I had felt while watching the film had been diluted by those words. The joyful and simple message reminding us that every life has value seeped away into evening darkness.  So I put the film away for a day or so and I re-watched “Treme”.  Thanks to that wonderful series, I was able to renew the joy that I had originally experienced in initially watching “Bury the Hatchet.”

Thanks to the wonderful cinematography and skills of Aaron Walker, I was privy to an inner circle of a small group whose culture is intimately intertwined with the history of New Orleans, past and present.  To understand the Mardi Gras Indian culture, you need to also understand the history of New Orleans; pre-Katrina, post Katrina, pre-antebellum, post antebellum, during times of slavery, and times after slavery had been abolished — slavery played a pervasive role in the history of New Orleans. Indeed the history of the Mardi Gras Indians and the black culture of New Orleans is integral to the distinct culture and history that makes New Orleans the unique and fascinating place that it is. Even with all its blemishes, when this complex cultural layering is set in context, as it is in the documentary Bury the Hatchet, one begins to see why New Orleans remains such a powerful spiritual place, and, indeed, why New Orleans exists at all.

Another amazing part of the movie is the music that was contributed to it. George Winston scored several songs for Bury the Hatchet, including “The Old Professor“, a take on the minor-keyed version of “Big Chief” that Allen Toussaint performed at Professor Longhair’s funeral. A Big Chief himself, Donald Harrison, Jr. contributed several songs from his jazz repertoire to the film, including a version of “Big Chief” from the album “Indian Blues.“ The Dirty Dozen Brass Band contributed music, as well as as Arvo Part contributed “Fratres” and “Silentium“ to the film. Jimmy Scott’s haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit” is also included in the film.  One of the three main characters in Bury the Hatchet, Big Chief Doucette contributed “Chocko Me Feendo Hey” and “My Indian Red; (My Baby Doods version of those songs are also included.) Big Chief Monk Boudreaux also contributed music to the film. Ernest Skipper’s “Shotgun Joe is also in the movie.  Young Guardians of the Flame (members of the Harrison family (Donald Harrison) have two songs in the film, “Indian Red” and “Big Chief, Where Are You?” The music plays a large part in the film and even contributes to the stories of how and why the costumes were made.  Indeed “Strange Fruit” was the genesis for a beautiful heartrending costume made by Big Chief Alfred Doucette.

I would recommend this film highly to anyone who wants to begin to understand the city and traditions of New Orleans. If you understand the underlying meaning of Louis Armstrong’s song “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” you will begin to know why New Orleans children, residents, and musicians (who love New Orleans) always know the words to that song by heart.  This movie is a tribute to the city of New Orleans and its people; enjoy it, savor it and learn from it; it is a jewel that should become part of the lore that is New Orleans.


Laura Bergerol is a professional photographer in New Orleans and blogs on Posterous where you can also see some of her photos of the Mardi Gras Indians.

Guest Blogger Laura Bergerol on Planned Parenthood

Why this is personal; I stand with Planned Parenthood!
Congressional leaders and President Obama headed off a shutdown of the government with less than two hours to spare Friday night under a tentative budget deal that would cut $38 billion from federal spending this year. I am grateful that they figured out a way to avert government shutdown and not hurt Planned Parenthood in the process. But I AM REALISTIC; this battle is not over; this was simply the first skirmish in the war on women’s health.  So I ask you to please support Planned Parenthood and women’s health issues; it has never been so needed especially in a time where there is an all out assault on women’s health.  Please read the post that follows; it was written yesterday and it is my personal story on why this matters!


Friday April 8, 2011; Today I received emails from Planned Parenthood that actually make me sick; due to the stupid GOP who have decided that Planned Parenthood is a bad thing, so they plan to shut down the government and hold the Democrats and all women hostage in order to prove their point because they have decided that Planned Parenthood is ONLY about abortion.  The truth could not be farther from this!

I will cite articles, but what I want to do is to relate my own experience with abortion and a woman’s right to choose.  The beautiful girl that you see below in the photo is my sister Brenda; I lost her when she was twenty seven years old and the world lost a great crusader for the underdog.  It is because I was lucky enough to have her in my life, that I have the strength to speak out against what the GOP is doing; it is fundamentally wrong and it has to be overturned.  Here is her story (and mine.)

When Brenda was 25, she found out that she was pregnant.  It should have been a moment that most women who are in love and engaged to be married would cherish; the chance to have a child with the man that they love. Instead it was a time of terror for Brenda; you see, Brenda had severe epilepsy, and she could not be taken off of the medicines that kept her safe, in order to carry a child to term, and the medicines that already caused her significant side effects would have caused severe side effects to a child.  If she was taken off the anti-convulsive medicines, it was highly probable that she would have died from a seizure.

Additionally, she had a hard time taking birth control, since the pill caused her to have seizures. So after much heartache, pain, and discussion with her fiance to make her decision, she chose to have an abortion, and asked me to accompany her to Planned Parenthood in Santa Clara, California.  The year was 1982, and thank goodness, we had good facilities at that time that performed safe abortions. This had NOT always been the case as I was growing up, and indeed many deaths were attributed to back street abortion clinics.  When they called her back for the procedure, they had her talk to several counselors before taking her back to the room.  She explained over and over why she had no choice and I could see she was getting more and more upset; why couldn’t they just understand was written across her face.  Finally they began the procedure; it seemed an interminably long time, though in reality, it probably was over in less than a half hour.  BUT not before, my beloved sister suffered a Grand Mal seizure;  I stayed with her, never leaving her side and I tried to protect her from the seizure, and to simply be there for her.  She was terrified, as she always was when she had a seizure, and once the procedure was finally over, I took her home and put her to bed where she slept for 14 hours straight. She often felt guilt about that act, but I know in my heart that she would not have survived pregnancy, and that she had made the right decision.  If the GOP gets their way, the Brenda’s of the world, will have no where to turn.  Please do not let this happen!

To finish my story, about two summers later, Brenda married her sweetheart in June of 1984.  They began their married life together, but it was to be short-lived. On October 4, 1984, my sister had a Grand Mal seizure while driving and was killed instantly when her car ran into the piling for an overpass on Highway 101 in Santa Clara, CA.

The one thing that I know about my sister Brenda, is that she would not mind me telling you this story; indeed knowing Brenda, she would be on the picket lines in DC marching with Planned Parenthood.  Please do not force women to go back to a terrible time where contraception, family planning, and abortions are difficult to obtain.  Please stand with Brenda and me; we support and stand with Planned Parenthood and we believe in the rights of all women to get the medical help they need, no matter their financial situation.



Today’s (4/9/11)  New York Times;

From the Washington Post:… “Though the fight over Planned Parenthood might be about abortion, Planned Parenthood itself isn’t about abortion. It’s primarily about contraception and reproductive health. And if Planned Parenthood loses funding, what will mainly happen is that cancer screenings and contraception and STD testing will become less available to poorer people. Folks with more money, of course, have many other ways to receive all these services, and tend to get them elsewhere already. The fight also isn’t about cutting spending. The services Planned Parenthood provides save the federal government a lot of money. It’s somewhat cold to put it in these terms, but taxpayers end up bearing a lot of the expense for unintended pregnancies among people without the means to care for their children. The same goes for preventable cancers and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.”

From Planned Parenthood; I stand with Planned Parenthood;

From US Dept of Health and Human Services;

From the New York Times;

Shutdown Near, No Sign of Compromise; After the nightlong negotiations that ended before dawn on Friday yielded no agreement, Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, went on the offensive. He told reporters and said on the Senate floor that Mr. Boehner, the Senate Democrats and President Obama had essentially settled on $38 billion in cuts from current spending. But he said that Republicans were refusing to abandon a policy provision that would withhold federal financing for family planning and other health services for poor women from Planned Parenthood and other providers.“This is indefensible, and everyone should be outraged,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. “The Republican House leadership have only a couple of hours to look in the mirror, snap out of it and realize how truly shameful they have been.”


Laura Bergerol is a professional photographer in New Orleans and blogs on Posterous and at Time Laura also was a major contributor to our Katrina Photo Project for the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This essay was cross-posted from her personal blog.