An Unusual Lunch for a Good Cause

The New Orleans Mission launched its “Pathway to Restoration” campaign at an unusual lunch today. First, the lunch was held on the stage at the Orpheum Theater, and it was prepared and served by staff and clients at the Mission. We ate the same meal that a homeless client might receive (baked chicken, rice pilaf, fresh carrots, iced tea and home-made cake muffins).

The Orpheum, sans seats.

The Orpheum has been out of commission and basically abandoned since Katrina. The basement under the seats and stage was so full of water they called it the “seal tank.” The theater is in the throes of renovation, and it has a long road ahead. The basement has been drained, the old ruined seats have been removed, and the theater is drying out.

I was amazed to see that the intricate ceiling in the lobby still looks great, but the inside of the theater is another story entirely. I cannot imagine what it will cost to restore the beautiful design work and the interior of the theater itself. Local entrepreneur and tax credit guru Morris Kahn and his partners are working with the owners to restore the building. Curiosity on the state of the Orpheum led me (and others, I suspect), to attend the lunch.

I support the New Orleans Mission. We pass it on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard every day on our way to and from the office. The Mission will take in anyone off the street as long as they are not “falling down, throwing up” drunk.” It not only provides meals, showers, beds, and medical and spiritual guidance, it also provides case management services intended to help the Mission clients find full-time employment and permanent housing. There’s also a rehab program for men struggling with addiction who want to change their lives.

The ceiling of the Orpheum, lacking paint and gilding, but still beautiful.

Before Katrina, there were about 6,000 homeless in New Orleans; after Katrina, the number surged to 12,000. It’s now estimated at about 19,000. Sadly, 100 percent of these individuals live below the poverty level; 88 percent have addiction issues and 75 percent have mental illness. Over 60 percent of the Mission’s clients are from Louisiana, and 42 percent are employed full-time. About 80 percent are men; 12 percent women, and 8 percent are single women with children or are families.

Since Katrina, the New Orleans Mission has repaired its building, remodeled its Women’s Center, completed construction of a Volunteer Center, added day room services (AA meetings, shoes and clothing distribution, legal aide, employment support and training, health care services and more every Monday through Friday), and amazingly, paid off all debt while at the same time expanding its operations for the homeless.

The Mission promotes itself as a “one-stop shop” for providing all services in one location.

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What these people do and the way they manage their resources is simply amazing. They are the largest homeless service provider in the city, and they provide more services for more people with less staff than any other similar institution.

The Mission needs donations and volunteers. Anyone—you or me, our family members, our friends—could become homeless at some time in their lives. There but for good fortune, go you and I. It’s been said that you can judge a city by how it treats its less fortunate. It’s up to you to help the New Orleans Mission with a donation of money, goods or your time. All donations are 100 percent tax-deductible. Helping the New Orleans Mission will help you feel good, I promise.

For more information,  go to or call (504) 523-2116.