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The Road to New Orleans Ends in ... Joplin?

by Samantha Jo Warfield

New Orleans knows a lot about service. The city has a rich history steeped in volunteerism and national service. They also know, perhaps more than any other U.S. City, that service plays a critical role in transforming a place that suffered unimaginable destruction.

After Hurricane Katrina, the city once known for its lively and colorful neighborhoods, personalities, and culture was left shaken – swimming in floodwater and debris. At that point, it was hard to imagine that the city would ever return to its once vibrant self. Yet, just six years later, New Orleans has been reborn.

At the 2011 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New Orleans this week, we've heard countless testimonies from attendees and locals alike that the volunteers who went to the gulf coast after Katrina left a lasting impact on the communities they served in, as well the hearts of those they served.

So its no surprise that when the people of New Orleans saw the devastation in the small community of Joplin, MO, they felt compelled to give back.

Delivering Supplies and Smiles

"Three Chefs: One Mission," led by Greg Reggio and the Taste Buds, a local culinary company, organized a team of New Orleanians to head to Joplin. After an official send off on Monday with service leaders and Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the group headed north to deliver supplies and smiles to struggling community.

The New Orleans contingent included a caravan of refrigerated trucks, trailers, cooking equipment, tents, generators, buses, and a 24-foot music stage for musician Amanda Shaw, traveling with the convoy to perform in Joplin. The team will serve more than 1,000 people a hot meal of fresh Louisiana seafood and return to New Orleans on June 8th.

"Our mission is a simple one – to bring a little bit of Louisiana food, music and spirit and a lot of Louisiana love to the people of Joplin, Missouri," said Reggio.

"Sharing great food and music provides much more than filling the bellies and ears of those in need. Even if just for a moment -- but hopefully for a few hours -- we'll ease the minds and lift the spirits of the Joplin community. A little progress each day, a little bit of brightness are all things that ease the mind and help heal the soul, and we hope to remain an ongoing partner with Joplin beyond this experience during their rebuilding process."

Reggio and the fellow chefs in his Taste Buds crew often do charity and volunteer work -- in addition to their restaurant business -- for natural disasters and local causes. They've already made runs to Tuscaloosa and knew a trip to Joplin would be in their future. For Reggio, service is a family affair – his sister is an AmeriCorps alum that served in Lafayette, LA.

"Perhaps no other city understands the value of volunteer service to create change and build community, whether that is the complicated task of damage clean-up, or preparing a warm, delicious meal for volunteers and those affected by disaster," said Mayor Landrieu

"This taste of New Orleans culture will be greatly appreciated by the hard-working volunteers and residents of Joplin who are coming back from a terrible disaster with a strong spirit of resiliency and hope," said AmeriCorps Director John Gomperts. "Just as in New Orleans, volunteers and national service participants are playing an essential role in helping Joplin get back on its feet."

Over the weekend, Gomperts was in Joplin meeting with government officials, volunteers, and reviewing the extraordinary volunteer operation led by AmeriCorps.

Since the tornado, the Volunteer Reception Center -- established and led by 130 AmeriCorps members -- has coordinated more than 14,000 unaffiliated volunteers who have performed more than 50,000 hours of service to the victims of the Joplin Tornado.

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