About four weeks ago, the skies opened violently in Southern Louisiana, releasing torrential rains that flooded an entire third of the state. The storm dropped the 7.1 trillion gallons of water on the dry land – three times the amount deposited by Hurricane Katrina – surpassing known flood zones and creating unprecedented damage. It’s estimated that the final toll of damaged homes will number around 100,000, the majority owned by low to middle-income people without flood insurance.
People lost everything. Almost overnight, Southern Louisiana was left with an incredible need – particularly for essentials like food, water and shelter. To make matters worse, one Feeding America member serving a large proportion of the impacted area was itself destroyed by the storm. The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank’s (GBRFB) warehouse was ruined along with more than a half million pounds of food. But it would take more than a massive flood to keep the staff and volunteers at GBRFB from responding to its community at this critical time. The food bank closed for a week to reorganize, but then went right back to serving its neighbors in need.
It’s one thing to hear somber statistics and see tragic images from storms like this, but it’s another to see the damage and talk to survivors yourself. And last week, that’s exactly what I went down to Baton Rouge to do in efforts to raise more awareness and support. I’ve documented my experience in two parts: the first focusing on individual survivor stories and the second detailing the work and support of The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans and the Feeding America network.
Part One: Surviving the Storm
My time in the flood-damaged areas was a sobering experience. I met many people who lost absolutely everything. They were staying in shelters, hotels or with family and friends. Some families were hosting as many 23 people who had nowhere else to go. Others were seeking support to meet basic needs for the first time. Like Joy, who kept shaking her head while she told her story, as if she still couldn’t believe it had happened to her.
Joy and her family got out as water began pooling on the floor of their home. They couldn’t return for days, and when they did, it was to remnants of what their house used to be. “The waters rose as high as our doorway,” Joy said. “Really, all we have left of that house is memories, because everything’s been destroyed.”
Joy at her church.
Her family sought immediate help at her church, where they stayed for almost three weeks. The church, which runs a food pantry supported by GBRFB, supplied the family with food and water to get by. “It’s hard for me to understand why this had to happen to us,” Joy said. “I mean, why did I have to lose everything? Some things maybe, but everything? I have faith though that we’ll get through, and I’m just taking it day by day. This week is better than the one before.”
Her family is now living in a hotel, trying to figure out next steps. In the meantime Joy spends her days volunteering at the food pantry that helped her. She wants to give back and the need isn’t going away. She knows her family weathered the storm thanks to the dedicated workers and volunteers at that pantry, who, like many across the region, have been providing food and support to displaced and affected families and will continue to do so.
Fred is one of those dedicated workers – one who continues to give back day after day after suffering a total loss himself. Fred is a driver for the GBRFB, and was generous enough to share his story with me.
Fred in front of his damaged home.
“The day of the floods, my wife, son and I left to go to her grandmother’s funeral,” Fred recalls. “But upon returning, the floods had reached our neighborhood, and we weren’t allowed to return at all.”
Fred’s home was devastated. “It’s hard to really think about what has happened, everything we’ve lost – especially the sentimental stuff like wedding and baby photos. But going out with the food bank every day to serve people helps me recover. It makes me feel good to focus on helping others – and there are plenty of people who have lost far more from me. That gives me perspective and makes me grateful for everything I still have.”
Fred says the road to recovery is long. Each day he gets up and helps the food bank distribute food and supplies to the hardest hit areas. And then after work, he goes back to what’s left of his home to rebuild. He knows this will be his routine for a while. But he’s thankful he has supportive coworkers and family to help him through this trying time.
Fred and Joy are just two of many people I met working hard to overcome the storm. It’s beyond inspiring to meet people who exude hope, determination and selflessness in the face of such devastation. People like them make it clear that with the proper resources and support, Louisiana will recover. Find out more about how you can support disaster relief efforts in the impacted area.
*Colleen Callahan is the communication manager and content producer at Feeding America. Check back next week to find out how the Feeding America network stepped up to help the people of Louisiana.