I didn’t know what I going to post today, so I grabbed my camera bag and headed over to Jackson Square, hoping to find Christmas. All I got were a bunch of generous vampires.
Right in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, a row of tables had been set up, bedecked with big silver chafers loaded with food. Volunteers were ready with ladles and smiles, and a long line of people were filing along, filling their plates with food. Most of the people eating were homeless or disadvantaged in one way or another.
All of the people serving may or may not be vampires. But they do belong to the New Orleans Vampire Association.
The organization, called NOVA for short, is a state recognized, non-profit organization, and they have been here feeding the homeless and hungry every Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter, since 2005. Belfazaar Ashantison, who started the tradition right after Katrina, gave me a brief history of how it came about.
“I stayed for Katrina, I didn’t evacuate, and when my job came back [he worked at the Target Store in Metairie], they made sure I had food and everything I needed. I had so much that I came down here that first year, Thanksgiving, and did it, and I’ve been doing it ever since…We have a whole organization that’s cropped up around it.”
That organization, NOVA, has the short term goal, as stated on their website, of “fundraising, and to continue and expand feeding operations as well as creating a fund for realization of long-term goals, primary of which is a property of its own to provide food and shelter to those in the Community in need.” They don’t just raise money for the community. They also prepare this buffet themselves. Said Ashantison, who also goes by Zaar: “We get donations, and we go out and buy the food and we actually cook the food.”
NOVA itself is made up of several Houses, and in addition to being an acronym for New Orleans Vampire Association, it has another meaning as well. As described on their website: “NOVA can also be read as standing for Novus Ordo Vampire Ascendere, or ‘the new order of vampire has arisen.’ NOVA arose from the various attempts to give the ‘vampire’ and other-kin subcultures support and structure.”
As for how they define the meaning of being a vampire?
“What it is to be a vampire is not debated by the members of NOVA. No member Household judges the paradigm of another individual or House. We represent the entire continuum of our Community ranging from those who view the vampyric state as matter of energy, those for whom it is a matter of biology, spirituality, racial identity or bio-spirituality.” As for feeding the homeless on what are traditionally very un-vampirelike days of the year, the site says “What NOVA does do is back or support the Houses of NOVA by promoting the actions of the individual members such as parties, charities and feeding of the homeless which is also a gift to the greater New Orleans population, be they human or otherwise.”
And this, my friends, is how I found Christmas in Jackson Square. Don’t you just gotta love this town?