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Voices of Katrina - Talking with Michael Burnett

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opednews.com Headlined to H3 11/6/09

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Welcome to OpEdNews, Mike. You have an interesting story to tell our readers about your recent activism. Can you start the ball rolling?

It all started with wanting to meet the need in my community. And show love to others the way Christ shows love to us. I was raised in Gonzales, La., a place that's known for our Jambalaya. But just because we are the Jambalaya capital of the world, doesn't mean that every family in Gonzales can have a bowl full of it when they want it. There are many people hungry in the streets. And anybody with a heart would want to do something about it. So, a group of us got together and planned an event called Rock Da Block "Do Something." Everyone talks about making a change, but who is really willing to "Do Something" about it?

Sounds good. But what exactly was Rock Da Block and how did you put it together?

Rock Da Block was a community give-back event that was first put on in Baton Rouge and was headed by Bishop Johnny Young and the REP JESUS Family. I had the pleasure of being a part of that event and decided I wanted to do the same thing in my city. So, with the help of everyone involved in the Baton Rouge event and a committee we formed in Gonzales, we were able to birth one of the biggest community events to ever hit Ascension Parish. We had a lot of local sponsors donate things that we could give away. Sponsors like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Athletic Center, Blue Runner, Zapps Potato Chips, Albertsons, Christian Brothers Seafood, and many more.

All who heard the cry of Gonzales wanted to help. The event was held on the grounds of New Beginning Word Fellowship, so at the same time we were meeting the physical needs of the people, we were meeting their spiritual needs as well. We had live entertainment, games and spacewalks, kids got to spray the fire hose from a fire truck, and we gave away lots of food. Which turned out to be the greatest need. And when the event was over, people were calling asking how can they help, and when were we going to have another one, and we also received calls from people that needed assistance. That's when we knew we had to take it to another level. Little did we know, God already had a plan.

How did you get these big retailers to come forward? Usually, that's not so easily accomplished.

We wrote letters explaining what we were trying to do, made phone calls explaining our cause and did television interviews. Once we went public with the event, it wasn't hard at all to get businesses on board. We had the chief of police and city councilmen speaking on our behalf. I think everyone knew how great the need was, it just took someone to stand up and say I'm ready to "Do Something."

How many people turned up for this bash?

We had approximately 300 to 400 people in and out of the area.

That's impressive. So, then, you and your pastor decided to ramp up your activism on the hunger front. What was the next step?

My pastor asked me if I wanted to head the outreach ministry at our church and I accepted. One of the things I wanted to do was feed the hungry. So, as we began to ask questions and brainstorm on how to get this done, Errol (someone at our church who does outreach with me) got in contact with someone out of New Orleans and asked for guidance. The man proceeded to tell him about a lady in New Orleans that was feeding thousands of people and she was the one we should talk to. So we began to research her and little did we know, she was a member of our church! I read articles about her, one of which you wrote, and I knew this was God-ordained. She and my pastor eventually got together and discussed the possibility of starting a food pantry in Gonzales, and the rest is history.

Tell us how you finally connected with Debra [South Jones of Just the Right Attitude].

My first time meeting with Mrs. Debra was at my pastor's house when she sat down and explained her vision for Ascension Parish before our board. I was in awe when she told us her story and about what she was doing in New Orleans. That's when Errol and I realized this was the lady we had been told to seek after, and she had been in our midst all this time.

So what have you all cooked up at your church for feeding the needy?

Not often do you get a non-profit and a faith-based organization working together. But that is exactly what we have done. Every Friday and Saturday, JTRA, along with members of New Beginning Word Fellowship, come together and pass out groceries. Some people come on-site to pick up, and sometimes we go out in the community and hand out. This has been going on since September 18th, and each week the need gets greater and greater.

Your church building was just too small to house a branch of JTRA What have you done to accommodate the need for additional space?

Our church generously stepped to the plate and donated a trailer and and storage space. Pastor Chris Thompson Sr. and the New Beginning family have true hearts' desire to help people. And in today's time, not just the homeless need help, but there are a lot of people in corporate America being laid off and need a little help putting food on the table. So with God's grace, we are going to continue to "Feed the Multitude."

You are now a well-respected young leader at your church. And yet, it was not a given that you would be doing what you are doing today, given your past. Can you tell our readers a little about that?

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http://www.opednews.com/author/author79.html

Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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