On May 27th and 28th I volunteered in the southern Louisiana town of Port Sulphur helping fishermen and shrimpers who have lost their livelihoods due to the BP Oil Spill get food and sign up for various social services. My job was simple, record the information of the fishermen and shrimpers- name, address, family size and make up- and then give them a box of food that was prepared by Second Harvest. Most of the time I carried the box to their car and we'd chat on the way. I chatted with a lot of them about how they were doing and what they are going to do next and a few things really stuck with me in their stories.
Shrimping seems to be a lot like farming- in one short period, you make all the money you are going to make for that year and you save up during the summer to last you through the winter. But now because of the oil spill, the shrimp and fish are dying off or are toxic so you can't catch them. One of the wives of the shrimpers told me that they were expecting this year to be a good harvest with a high price on the shrimp, so they took out a big loan and got a bigger boat. But now because of the BP Oil Spill, they can't fish and are stuck with the boat payments. It seemed to be a smart investment on their part, but because of poor adherence to safety regulations on the part of BP, this family will go from being middle class to bankrupt and on foodstamps within the course of two months.
The people I spoke with told me about how they have nearly run through what they had saved up to last them through the winter and are starting to fall behind on car or mortgage payments. Their situation will only worsen as their unemployment lasts. There is no long term relief in sight for these shrimpers as it will take years for the shrimp stocks in the region to recover from the pollution and population collapse. These are fishermen and shrimpers who are not only out of a job for this year because of the spill, but next year, the year after and the year after that.
What are they going to do? What can we do to help them?
What we can do now is volunteer, donate, and spread the word.
I had a lot of difficulty finding ways to volunteer. In the end I would recommend checking out the HandsOn New Orleans volunteer response calendar and sign up for a volunteer opportunity. You can also volunteer by registering with the LA Gulf Response Program and Volunteer Louisiana. If you don't have much time and are doing this on the fly, I recommend HandsOn New Orleans.
If you want to make a non-financial donation, the organization Matter of Trust is collecting donations of hair, fur, fleece, feathers, and nylons to make into booms to collect the oil from the spill
And of course, find your Senator and House member's address and phone number and contact them telling them that you're mad as hell and you aren't gonna take it anymore. Don't forget to tell Obama too.