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The last shall be first

"The last shall be first" Continued...

Issue: "Miers doesn't fit the mold," Oct. 15, 2005

As a middle-class homeowner, Mrs. Allison said she finds her family's displacement "extremely surreal."

"You watch the effects of [Hurricanes] Ivan or Andrew and you think, gosh, that's terrible," she said. "But then you can click off the TV and go back to your life."

This time, she's applying for food stamps.

To keep victims from bouncing around in a maze of aid services, Operation OC assigns each individual or family a single volunteer, who provides a listening ear and walks them through the entire process. That doesn't always work perfectly. After a long day at the resource center, Mrs. Allison carted her kids to social services to pick up enough food stamps to last until the family returns to New Orleans next month.

An Operation OC volunteer phoned ahead to let the office know a Katrina victim was headed their way. But when Mrs. Allison arrived, no one remembered the call. Then, a clerk told her she was too late to file her paperwork that day and would have to return the next.

"The office was packed with screaming children. I was tired. The kids were tired," Mrs. Allison said. "By the time I got in to talk to a counselor, I just started crying." She realizes that with an intact family and home to return to, she's better off than most storm victims. Still, she suggested that Operation OC's link with social services could have been made smoother by having a liaison onsite at the food-stamp office.

That may be a possibility. One difference Operation OC has been able to offer Katrina victims is speed and flexibility, the ability to staff creatively and color outside regulatory lines. For example, the group is marshaling aid from an array of entities that government relief models might have left on the sidelines.

Operation OC is asking local churches to sponsor a year's worth of apartment rent-about $18,000 in Orange County. It tapped corporations to underwrite 30-day bus and metro rail passes. And the group also asked the folks at Disneyland to put together "welcome baskets" containing towels, blankets, hygiene items, bus passes, laundry soap-and quarters to take to the Laundromat.

For Operation OC, the next relief phase is actually being able to house Katrina victims for the long term. To that end, OCRM is fast-tracking completion of its Village of Hope project. The Village was designed as a Christian residential program that would provide more than 60 fully furnished apartments to homeless individuals and families working toward self-sufficiency. Originally set to open next year, OCRM is fast-tracking completion so that, within the next 30 to 60 days, it can open occupancy to as many as 70 families displaced by Katrina.

Since the Allison family registered with Operation OC on Sept. 19, the aid group "calls me pretty much every day to make sure we have everything we need. One day they called to see how my little girl's rash was doing, and had we seen a doctor?"

Mrs. Allison told WORLD her "little bitty brush with government" at the food-stamp office made her glad she was able to get other necessities through a private aid group. "If I had had to get everything through the government, I probably would have had a nervous breakdown," she said. "Operation OC is a really good connection to have."

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