Charity groups say oil spill victims still need food assistance, other help


Even with the deep sea oil hemorrhage halted and much of the fishing in the Gulf of Mexico reopened, two major charity groups reported on Wednesday that the needs of impacted families remain dire.

During the kickoff of a renewed fundraising campaign, officials from Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans said members of the fishing, oil and service industries are still hurting six months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. And they said perceptions that the crisis is over and that money from BP is taking care of all the losses have detracted from fundraising.

“It’s a sustained 25 percent increase in demand,” said Natalie Jayroe president of the food bank, referring to the number of people asking for food assistance. “It hasn’t waned yet.”

Second Harvest has distributed more than 610,000 meals to families affected by the BP oil spill. Catholic Charities has served 35,277 people with food vouchers, mental health counseling, financial help with housing costs and baby supplies.

“There seems to be a sense that help is pulling out of the region,” said Steven Scheurich, vice president of customer service for Entergy Louisiana, adding that national news media attention has receded. “Unlike the hurricanes, the financial outpouring has not come to fruition. The overall sentiment is that it’s BP’s responsibility.”

Scheurich announced a $100,000 donation from Entergy to Catholic Charities.

Iray Nabatoff, director of the Community Center of St. Bernard, a Second Harvest partner, said requests for food, clothing, assistance information and computer laboratory sessions continue to rise.

“We’re seeing the ripple effects of the oil spill and the cessation of fishing activities right through the economy,” Nabatoff said. “I think we’re still on the ascending end of this. I wish I could report things are abating. On so many levels, it’s actually more of a struggle now.”

Nabatoff said reimbursement programs are falling far short of making people whole, especially people with financial or literacy problems that prevent them from securing help.

Even with fishing resuming, he said, demand and prices for Gulf seafood continue to suffer.

At Wednesday’s event at the Second Harvest warehouse in Elmwood, the charities unveiled a series of video testimonials from people affected by the hit to the coastal economy. They will post the videos, which they call Voices of the Gulf, on the Internet and encourage people to share them and spread them online as a way of building support.

One of the featured residents, Kim Palmisano of Lafitte, who owns a seafood market in Westwego that sells shrimp caught by her husband, said after the event that the return of shrimp season is starting to revive business. But she said many people continue to struggle because of the long interruption in income, especially fishers who did not get payments from BP for working in the spill response and cleanup. Even those who worked for BP face lingering, intense anxieties about the fate of their businesses, she said.

“The people in my community are getting back to work,” she said. After months in limbo, she plans to reopen her market on Nov. 1. “The boats are back working now, and the shrimp are plentiful.”

Graylone Watkins, a painting supervisor for a company that provides containers oil drillers use to hold various drilling fluids, said he has grappled this year with reduced hours and lost bonuses. Before the rig explosion, he said, his company expected a robust year. After the moratorium on deep water drilling, he said the process of restarting work is slow.

“All of our equipment is based on that drilling,” he said. For most of his co-workers, he said, “Right now, it’s down to the finances.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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