Rainbow Relief Kitchen makes MSNBC news
WAVELAND, Miss.One of the great ironies in the
landscape of Katrina recovery efforts is the
success of the New Waveland Café. It is, in fact,
a soup kitchen, and for parts of the last eight
weeks, it has served as many as 4,000 meals a
day. It is still doling out 1,500 to 2,000 meals
It is remarkable as much in its atmosphere as in
its volume. Imagine being asked, after standing
in line for dinner at a relief center, having
lost your home: "Would you like walnut
vinaigrette with your salad?"
This is the world of the Rainbow Family, and
friends. The Rainbow people are the latest
generation of hippies, and to hear them describe
their set-up -- which can't be described as a
structure -- you might not predict efficiency.
"Our group is non-political, non-religious,
non-organization or hierarchical," says (non)
spokesman Aaron Funk. "We make decisions as a
group in a council through a consensus process.
There are no official leaders. We all represent
the circle at any time."
There are tie-dyed T-shirts and dogs with
bandanas. There are bands playing every few days.
It doesn't feel like the prime spot for hurricane
And yet, local people line up here, day after
day, and will tell you that it is certainly one
of, if not the best, meal in town. There's
grilled pork, curried veggies and Basmati rice;
most of the foods are organic. It works, and what
is amazing about that is this: They've never done
According to Funk, the alternative groups, linked
through the Internet and through spiritual-social
gatherings like the annual Burning Man festival
in Nevada, ended up producing this effort. Funk
lived in Berkeley, Calif., and was in contact
with Colvis Siemon, who works at Organic Valley,
of Viroqua, Wis. The two of them were in the
initial group of about 10 people who arrived at
the scene of the disaster about 10 days after
Katrina hit. Organic Valley donated kitchen
equipment, and later, a steady supply of food.
"It took us three or four days to realize we had
to get here," he says. But getting into the
disaster zone was complicated, and took several
more days. "Unfortunately, it was very confusing,
and I don't think anyone knew what to do," says
Funk. They had a mobile kitchen with capacity to
feed 5,000 a day, but they got caught in a web of
approvals, as one department handed off to
another for a decision. "We end up calling 20
different numbers and nobody had an answer, so we
They met up with another group, one of the first
on the ground here, Bastrop Christian Outreach
Center (BCOC), based in Bastrop, Texas. It was a
match made in heaven, and hardship. Bastrop soon
handed over the meal service function to Rainbow,
and began focusing on distribution of groceries
and other necessities.
Resources continue to materialize, like a massive
geodesic tent from Burning Man, which is used for
the main meal site. At the same time, Rainbow
people hooked up with all the people they needed.
Organic Valley proves a semi-truck full of food
every week, and other contributors like Sanderson
Farms also send in goods.
Although several government organizations tried
to shut down the operation in the early days, the
relationship with the government agencies has
been smoothed over.
"We now have placed a food order and received a
shipment from the Emergency Operations Center,"
Anyone and everyone
As far as this group is concerned, anybody who
has anything to offer the people suffering from
Katrina is a potential partner.
"We're working with any and all groups who come
through here," says Funk. "We're working
Christian, non-Christian, FEMA, the National
Guard ... anyone and everyone."
Meals are the basic service. But there is also
first aid for those who need it, and a children's
art space, which sometimes also has psychiatric
counselors. And going well above and beyond the
call of duty, Rainbow people are offering courses
that didn't exist here, even before
Katrinasalsa, waltz and tango.
Meantime, if that geodesic tent that houses the
New Waveland Café looks familiar, it's because it
is used at Burning Man. Some of the producers of
that event are here in the background.
But try to get any background on the Rainbow
Family and the links that bind them together, and
run up against a wall. Who are the members, and
how many are there? All they know, says Funk, is
that it every year, on July 4, people come out to
join meditation gatherings in groups of 8,000 to
20,000. How many people are in the worldwide
"No idea," says Funk. "It's international, and
its non-organization. It's a friend-of-a-friend's
Why it all came together to work at the New
Waveland Café is equally mysterious. "There's a
huge amount of magic, and help," says Siemon. "I
don't know how it worked."
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