Hemelt: Tornado can’t stop children from getting Easter baskets

Published 12:02 am Saturday, April 2, 2016

Gabby McKarry is like many homegrown River Region residents.

When she sees those in her community suffer, she suffers.

Since an F1 tornado ripped through St. John the Baptist Parish Feb. 23, there has been a lot of suffering.

Robert Griffin Jr. was one of many children who thought the cupcakes were a big hit at the giveaway.

More than 300 homes and 50 businesses were damaged or destroyed by the winds that exceeded 130 mph.

Behind the numbers were countless people and families forced into tough times as they scrambled to secure basic housing conditions.

Some storm victims have insurance, others do not, but they all share a constant that is upheaval. When dealing with tornados, there is little preparation but loads of aftermath.

Gabby and her mother Sonya recognized that and wanted to do a little something to help. Easter weekend provided the perfect opportunity.

“I work within the community and I have seen the people in need and their homes,” Gabby said during a recent trip to L’OBSERVATEUR. “The idea came since Easter was right around the corner to maybe do something. I talked to my mom, and she supports everything I do. So, she said, ‘let’s do it.’”

What Gabby and Sonya did — loosely dubbed Baskets of Love — was put together more than 70 Easter baskets to hand out to children from LaPlace and beyond that had been adversely impacted by February’s tornado.

They reached out to committed community members, teamed with elected Parish leaders and worked with corporate sponsors.

Everything came into place March 26 at Bot’s Place on Airline Highway, where the McKarrys and Parish President Natalie Robottom helped hand out the baskets, and by extension, a little Easter joy to dozens of children.

“The goal was to givea way baskets and have children come by for cupcakes and gift bags,” Gabby said. “Everything went well — better than I could expect. It started off with 30 donated baskets from Ingram-Barge. That turned from 30 to 50, to 60, then to 70 with all types of other people helping.”

Gabby, a 23-year-old Reserve resident, joked with me after the event that her mother still “surprises” her and her 30-year-old brother with Easter baskets each year. It’s special to her, and she wanted to make sure it stayed special for many children in our community.

“I’m not one who likes recognition,” Gabby said. “I can do something and stand not to be recognized for it, but if this turns into something big, I would be happy about it. I would love to be able to do it each year and give away 100 or more baskets.”

Gabby and Sonya contacted each family they wanted to donate to, receiving referrals from St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools and St. John Health and Human Resources.

“In calling some people, they were shocked, nearly in tears saying they didn’t know what they were going to do for their kids this Easter,” Gabby said. “They were staying with other people and didn’t know if that family was going to celebrate the holiday.”

In talking to so many parents, Sonya said she could feel a burden lifted from their shoulders.

According to Sonya, the good vibes spread to people way beyond St. John the Baptist Parish. One woman in her 90s got her daughter to drive her into LaPlace to donate Easter bunnies to the cause. A church from Donaldsonville donated Bibles. Businesses and individuals close and far provided everything that was needed.

Sonya said faith was an important theme as the children received crosses and spiritual bookmarkers, as well as prayer books. Parents were provided with Bibles and Daily Words.

“It was an amazing feeling to see some of the kids,” Gabby said. “They were excited about the baskets and just kept jumping up and down.”

According to organizers, sponsors included Xtreme Customs and Collisions, Roussel’s Fine Jewelry, Don’s Country Store, Gregg’s Neighborhood Market, Napoleon Bakery, LaPlace Urgent Care, Louisiana Dental Care, Allison Bourgeois — employee of Fred’s, Magnolia Convenience Store, Tri-Parish Trophies, Catlyn Mckarry, Javis Mckarry, Jahi Wilson, Jaclyn Hotard, Tawanda Palmer Wilson, Just Ride Transportation and Tour Services, Bot’s Place, Defrenchesh and Ascota Law Firm, International Wholesale Club, Dena Johnson, Mt. Salem Baptist Church of Donaldsonville, LaPlace Cleaners and Ingram-Barge of Reserve.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545  or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.