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Q & A by Amanda Rutledge, Marketing and Communication Intern, A Billion + Change
To commemorate the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the amazing volunteers who responded, A Billion + Change is running a blog series to highlight a few outstanding examples of skill-based volunteers who continue to contribute to the growth and resilience of the people and the city of New Orleans.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Judy Bussey, a Canadian food service employee, was shocked to see the devastation of New Orleans. Determined to help, Bussey searched for a place where she could make a difference with her time and her passion for food. About six years ago, Bussey found Liberty’s Kitchen and began her annual month-long visits to dedicate her time and passion to further develop the mission of Liberty’s Kitchen.
Can you tell me a little about Liberty’s Kitchen and what they do?
Liberty’s Kitchen is an organization dedicated to transforming the lives of vulnerable New Orleans youth. They provide a path to bright and healthy futures through employability and life skills training and by providing freshly prepared, nutritious meals to school children.
How long have you been volunteering with Liberty’s Kitchen?
I believe this past year was my fifth year; it may have been my sixth year.
Wow! So what is it about Liberty’s Kitchen that keeps you coming back every single year?
I have a heart for the city itself. The need is great; people here say to me, ‘Surely there is something that you can do closer to home.’ To which I say of course there is and I do volunteer in my hometown. When people are retired at my age in Canada, we tend to spend our winters where it’s warmer and I don’t see myself going somewhere and sitting by the pool. This way I’m getting a bit of a vacation somewhere it’s not too cold and I’m doing something I like doing! It’s amazing to see the difference in those kids in four weeks. It’s shocking.
Could you walk me through all the volunteer activities, noting where you may have used any of your professional skills?
One reason Liberty’s Kitchen appealed to me is that all through my life I have worked on and off either as a waitress or staffer for catering companies. Food service appealed to me; I love cooking. To me, working alongside students is ideal, peeling potatoes or doing whatever that’s food related, because it’s something I’ve done and something I enjoy.
When I was growing up I always wanted to be a social worker and my mother always said, ‘Oh you don’t want to do that, you don’t make any money, you work with the underbelly of life.’ She guided me away from it. I’ve always been a little bit sorry about that. I wish that I had followed through.
Are there any students that stick out in your mind?
There was one in particular who was not in the group that I worked with, but was in the group that came in as I was leaving. I spent the first week with him and I thought, ‘There is no way he’s going to get past the first week.’ He was slouched in his chair his hat pulled down over his eyes, ear buds in. The staff had to keep telling him to sit up and take those ear buds out, and I just thought, ‘He’s gone; he’s just not going to come back one day.’
When I went back for graduation he was actually the star of that class! Turns out, he used the training to land a job in the food service industry! He was an entirely different person and such a hard worker. You could see it.
Tell me about the impact that volunteering, including your work at Liberty’s Kitchen, has had on you over the years.
At a volunteer site in Mississippi many years ago, I was warned, ‘Be careful when you go home because you will start judging your friends and family on their lifestyle. You’ve now seen people who don’t have what you or your neighbors have.’ That is kind of how I feel every time I come home to my nieces and nephews complaining. I just say, ‘You guys don’t know just how good you have it.’
Anything you feel I should know?
If I had the time and the resources, I would spend more time there. I’m sad to see they don’t have more volunteers. Many volunteers don’t work out long-term. They told me it’s partly about perspective and judgement; volunteers come in with the right intentions and focus on saving kids from themselves. I’m sad that they don’t have more long-term volunteers that can come in and become a positive piece of their lives, rather than trying to fix them. They’re a fabulous organization. I hope they continue to grow.
Bussey hopes that others will see the boundless benefits that Liberty's Kitchen has given to the community and youth. She also hopes to see more businesses work with them, their students and their graduates.