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Louisianans Hurt By Spill Queue For Free Groceries

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Louisianans Hurt By Spill Queue For Free Groceries


Louisianans Hurt By Spill Queue For Free Groceries

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Even before the oil spill, many Gulf Coast families were living near the financial edge, their savings depleted by Hurricane Katrina. For those who fish for a living, the disaster has cut off both their source of income and a major source of food. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH: At St. Anthony's Church in Lafitte, Louisiana, people started lining up at 4 in the morning, even though the doors weren't set to open until 9. They were there for free food - actually, $100 grocery gift cards.

Ms. DIANE POCHE: Do you think we'd be sitting in these lines for five hours, for $100 in food, if we didn't need it? None of us would be here.

KEITH: Diana Poche is 61 years old and up until a month ago, she worked with her husband. He's a commercial fisherman, has been all his life. But now they can't fish, and Poche says they're forced to rely on the BP claims process for their entire income.

Ms. POCHE: I don't have any money coming in my house, period. My June bills have been due - and past due now. It don't look like BP cares about our June bills.

KEITH: So she brought a lawn chair and lined up early. Poche is sitting with a group of women who all seem to know each other. They're well put together, and you could easily imagine them sitting on the sidelines at a kids' soccer game. But instead, they're in the church cafeteria, waiting for a handout.

Steve Lenahan is with Catholic Charities of New Orleans, the group coordinating the giveaway.

Mr. STEVE LENAHAN (Catholic Charities of New Orleans): They're not used to getting help, assistance. They're usually self-sufficient. But this is a new situation for them and something that - it's just frustrating for them.

KEITH: Catholic Charities has set up five community assistance centers in southern Louisiana to deal with the fallout of the spill. They're funded, in part, by a million-dollar grant from BP. Company spokesman Curtis Thomas says it's a safety net.

Mr. CURTIS THOMAS (Spokesman, BP): And if they need immediate assistance, and they need groceries for today, you know, and if the claim process doesn't work for them for some reason - either they don't have the paperwork or they haven't gotten a number yet - please come down and get a voucher from Catholic Charities. They are in place so that people do have emergency assistance.

KEITH: The BP grant ran out last week and hasn't yet been renewed. But Catholic Charities is still giving away food cards, offering counseling services, and paying up to $200 towards one bill. Lenahan says they've helped nearly 10,000 people since May 1st. But every time they give out food cards - once a week at each site - they run out and have to turn people away.

Mr. LENAHAN: Well, we have limited resources. Unfortunately, we can't help everybody, but they can come back again next week and reapply.

KEITH: He says the demand just keeps growing. Rod Thomassie is holding a piece of paper with the number 77 on it, indicating his place in line.

Mr. ROB THOMASSIE: They're only giving 75 out. I might get lucky; I don't know.

KEITH: Thomassie has three kids to feed. He used to bring gulf seafood home from his job as a deckhand but because of the spill, he hasn't worked in seven weeks.

Mr. THOMASSIE: To tell a child you know, that you have no food - I don't have no work. Last week, they turn around, they cut my lights off, my water. I haven't had any work. Good thing for these people here, and my mom and my dad. They turned around and forked up a few dollars to help me put my lights and water back on.

KEITH: Thomassie did luck out; he got a grocery card. But he says he really just wants to get back to work. He dropped out of high school to start working on a boat - fishing is all he knows - and the oil spill has taken that away, at least for now.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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