New Orleans resident Becky Zaheri never thought that an e-mail to close friends would land her on the national news. Following Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast region last year, Zaheri refused to let her beloved city become inundated with piles of trash and debris. Instead, via an e-mail, she solicited friends to help pick up trash around New Orleans, ultimately forming the Katrina Krewe, a non-profit volunteer organization.
Evacuated to Baton Rouge, La., Zaheri had to decide whether to return with her family to the once-lively city. In doing so, the Katrina Krewe began to take shape. “I actually did not set out to create the organization,” Zaheri says. “I really was just traveling back and forth with my kids, and I didn't want to raise them in an environment that had just become a junkyard. I couldn't just go back to my old way of life.”
In November 2005, Zaheri rounded up her friends for their first clean up, which began around Thanksgiving with 15 people. In the beginning, the Katrina Krewe, which stands for Krewe Aiding in Trash Removal in the New Orleans Area, cleaned only one day each week. However, as word spread and the number of volunteers increased, the group upped their clean-ups to two days each week.
Zaheri and her “krewe” make volunteering simple. By visiting the organization's Web site (www.cleanno.org), potential volunteers can find out where the group will be cleaning and sign up. While the Katrina Krewe has recruited hundreds of volunteers from across the country, word also has traveled worldwide, bringing in volunteers from Holland, England, Nigeria and South America. “I think people see New Orleans on the news, and they want to figure out a way they can help out,” Zaheri says.
To date, the Katrina Krewe and its band of volunteers has cleaned a large part of the city, including the 7th and 8th wards, Gentilly, and the French Quarter. Their efforts have even garnered the attention of national TV programs such as the CBS Early Show, Fox News Live and the Ellen Degeneres Show. Despite the recognition, Zaheri hopes others will be encouraged to continue the clean-up process. “The city's got to step up and come up with some resources,” Zaheri says. “We can't be the garbage men and women of the city indefinitely.”
Zaheri will be the first to say that there is still much work to be done. The organization has several public education and awareness campaigns in the works including billboards, public service announcements and a short film to be introduced in schools this fall. “It's all of our problem now,” she says.