Community

Building Together on the Rock

Four years after Hurricane Katrina, Rev. Dwight Webster of Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans is among the tens of thousands of people who have not yet moved back to the city. More than 7 feet of water stood in his house for nearly three weeks after the hurricane. He commutes from Oakland, California, to pastor his church, which was damaged but reopened within a year.

Webster knows many other pastors who are struggling to get back into their homes and churches in areas devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita—neighborhoods such as the Lower Ninth Ward, Gentilly, and New Orleans East. “There are still parts of the city that look like a war zone,” he said, “like somebody just set off a bomb.”

While the total population of New Orleans has returned to nearly three-quarters of pre-Katrina levels, according to a report this January, Webster sees many churches where only 40 to 50 percent of active members have returned. “There were some churches that came back together and couldn’t make it,” Webster said, because they didn’t have enough members, or members didn’t have many financial resources to contribute.

In such an environment, Webster and other pastors are working together through Churches Supporting Churches (CSC), an organization that formed shortly after Katrina under the leadership of pastors in New Orleans, along with C.T. Vivian, a civil rights activist and contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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The Bounty Next Door

THE IDEA CAME in a dream. One night Kaytea Petro, co-founder of Neighbor-hood Fruit, dreamt she was searching on a Web site for public fruit trees throughout San Francisco. “Once I realized this site didn’t exist yet, I knew it was a good idea,” Petro told Sojourners. “Everybody likes backyard fruit.”

Today, more than 5,000 trees are registered on the Neighborhood Fruit Web site, a database where people can locate a fruit tree in their community, register fruit trees available for public consumption, or make direct transactions, called “fruitfillments,” in which one user lists their tree to be harvested and another user volunteers to harvest the fruit in exchange for a bag of it.

Gathered produce is also often donated to food pantries and shelters, something they encourage, says Oriana Sarac, Petro’s business partner. “We are looking to level the playing field for different socioeconomic groups by bringing fresh, local produce to them, especially immigrant and lower-income families”—a concept as biblical as it is pragmatic. As it says in Leviticus 19, “You shall not strip your vineyard bare …; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.”

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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