In February 2006 Iray returned briefly to New Hampshire to close down his house and dedicate himself fulltime to helping hurricane survivors in St Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Located just outside New Orleans, this entire Parish (county) was flooded when the levees broke, and recovery here has been a slow and painful process. Even today the population is barely half of what it was before hurricane Katrina.
By April 2006, Iray was working with returning residents to found the nonprofit Community Center of St Bernard, a recovery resource center that currently helps more than 5,300 people every year. Today Iray is the Center's Executive Director, a position he holds as a fulltime volunteer.
"I never thought that on Katrina's 6th anniversary I'd still be a volunteer in Louisiana," notes Iray. "But between the hurricane, the economic downturn, and last year's Gulf Oil Spill, people still need help. So the Community Center of St Bernard and I will be here for as long as it takes."
In recognition of the vital role that the Mustard Seed Food Pantry Program and the Food for Seniors USDA Commodities Program at the Community Center play in providing food for more than 2,100 disadvantaged families and senior citizens in St Bernard Parish every year, Iray has just been named as one of 5 finalists for the AARP's national 2011 Hunger Hero Award.
"Being a finalist for this award is such an honor, but Iray really deserves it," notes fellow long-term volunteer Sharon Ober. "The Community Center wouldn't be here now if it weren't for his determination to make things better for hurricane survivors in St Bernard Parish."
The winner of the 2011 AARP Hunger Hero award will be determined by an online vote. Voting started on August 8 and will continue through midnight on September 24. More information about the 2011 AARP Hunger Hero award is available at https://secure2.convio.net/