Baton Rouge Mission

This past weekend, I traveled to Baton Rouge, LA to assist with flood relief. The link below will take you to my pictures and narration from the 24-hour trip. It’s way prettier on Google Photos than it would be here.

Google Photos – Baton Rouge Mission

Alternatively, I’ll go ahead and copy all the text here so you can read it without the pictures.

Genesis

In 48 hours the following occured: Laura (a great friend from college) heard about flooding in LA and knew some people looking for help on their houses. She asked me if I could go with her to assist. I asked permission from the Seminary to go and they granted it. I was free after work Friday and had to be back by morning prayer Sunday morning.

Laura knew Rebecca who was asking for help on Facebook. Rachel knew Kim who lives in east BR. Kim was keeping track of neighbors needing help and coordinating volunteers. We contacted Kim, who gave us the addresses of people to work with. Kim also knew Olga, who graciously let us stay in her house.

Laura received donations from some friends, so we loaded up on supplies we could donate – work tools, food, water, cleaning stuff, etc – and headed off. Armed with a cell phones full of addresses and phone numbers for strangers, we set off to do what we could.

My goal for the trip was to ensure that the people I ran into would know they are known and cared for by people outside their community and do as much as I possibly could to assist their physical needs.

Friday

We stayed Friday night at the house of Olga and Alan. She is the DRE at a Catholic parish in town and has become a coordiator of relief efforts in the area. Their house wasn’t hit, so their whole family has spent the week helping tear up houses. We were prepped to sleep in sleeping bags on the ground, so their hospitality was above and beyond. The first of many genuine, good hearted people we met.

Saturday

Saturday morning we went to the addresses provided and found out that while technically still in Baton Rouge, we were about 30 minutes east in towns called Central and Denham Springs. For reference, this video shows an arial of many affected areas. DS appears at 0:37.

House debris lined miles of road. Many houses were entirely gutted, all belongings thrown away. Look at these roads and imagine multiple feet of standing water. Most people were evacuated from their houses on boats. This is not a flood plain. The closest major river was 3 miles away. The water peaked last weekend but lingered a few days. By the time we got there, most land was “dry”, but houses were starting to show mold.

House #1 – Linda and Jesse Marcus

We were originally sent to the home of Jesse Jr. After our first “how the heck did a seminarian and a chemical engineer from Houston end up here?” spiel (we had the script down by the end of the day), he said his house was mostly finished and directed us a few doors down to his parent’s house. Our first of many audibles for the day. We arrived there and met a whole crew of extended family beginning work.

The house been in standing water of 4-5 feet. Everything inside was already cleared out and trashed. According to the project lead at the house, the goal for the day was simple, “We aren’t leaving the house today until all the drywall is gone.” So we got to work.

All day long, people were driving down the streets yelling and offering water to workers. At lunch time, they came by and dropped off lunch. After lunch we had finished our assigned room, so we decided to head out and go the the next assigned house.

After a quick stop at McDonalds for the only working bathroom in our area, we arrived at:

House #2 – The King’s

Lisa has 2 kids under 5 and is visibly pregnant with a third. Their house had about a foot of water. They had taken our 4 feet of drywall/insulation and were working to salvage the clothes/furniture that could be saved. We helped move furniture, throw out insulation, and packed bags of clothes.

We also had some fun interactions. I was greeted by a ‘Gig em!’ from a guy that went to SFA. We met a girl from Nickel state who is about to enter the Little Sisters of the Poor religious community. Laura met a senior chemical engineer who spent 10 minutes telling her how he oversees engineers similar to her and they’re all worthless. Great fun.

House #3 – Granny and Grandpa Gregoirre

Their house was raised 3 feet off the ground and they had about 18 inches of water in the house. At the peak of the flood, Grandpa (75 years-old) put Granny (85 years-old) in a boat and, with the assistance of his son, pushed her half a mile in waist deep water to dry land. Our goal at the house was to tear our baseboards, carpet tack-strips, walls and insulation. We worked with the grandsons for a few hours.

Granny was in total shock, not sure what to do with herself in the middle of a wrecked house she’s lived in her entire life. She kept trying to sweep the floor, looking for any way to maintain a semblance of normalcy and cleanliness among the mess. She also repeatedly broke down in tears, thanking us for coming. Her house was destroyed and she was trying to give us gifts. She ultimately wouldn’t let us leave until we each took a quilt that she had knitted herself. Heart of an angel. I’ll be keeping this for years to come and praying for her every time I use it.

Heading Home

When it was time to go, we went to the parish Olga (our temporary host mom) works at. The church was operating as a disaster relief center, so we dropped off all our extra supplies, helped sort clothes, and distributed goods to families needing assistance. The Knights of the parish provided dinner it for all the affected families and volunteers.

A full day of work down, we got back in the car and drove back to Texas with heavy heart knowing that we were headed home to clean houses and beds while and leaving behind communities that lost everything and will be rebuilding for months or years. I hate to plug, but it would be a cherry on top if anyone is able to donate money to support families as they proceed forward. The vast majority of the homeowners affected

Closing Thoughts

It would be a cherry on top if anyone is able to donate money to support families as they proceed forward. The vast majority of the homeowners affected in this storm do not have flood insurance – There was no reason to… It’s not a classified flood area and has never flooded like this before – so these families will be restarting from scratch. I’m recommending Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge because I worked with them on the ground. https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/ccdbrdisasterresponse

Seeing this first hand has once again punched me in the gut in realization of how much need there is around us. It doesn’t matter where you are. You can do it. Strangers aren’t scary.  As my classmate Enrique very profoundly stated (when he committed to joining before he messed up his knee and had to drop out), “I’ve been praying a lot with Galatians 5 recently… How am I actually loving my neighbor? I’d probably do something like that for my family, but for strangers? Random people in a city 5 hours away? Maybe, but probably not. So I think I should go. That’d be loving in freedom.”

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Gal 5:13-14

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