Catastrophe can’t stop us: Actress/singer Andra Day collaborates with Councilwoman Duhe-Griffin & community groups for hurricane relief
Published 10:39 am Monday, September 20, 2021
LAPLACE — Grammy nominated singer, songwriter and actress Andra Day reached out to St. John the Baptist Parish District 4 Councilwoman Tyra Duhe-Griffin after seeing a news report about the devastation in LaPlace in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
That initial interaction led to a collaborative hurricane relief effort that included participation from the Braveheart Foundation, the Rotary Club of LaPlace, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority River Parishes Alumnae Chapter, Southern University Ag Center and other community groups.
Hundreds of St. John the Baptist Parish residents received free jambalaya, water, toiletries, non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies, baby products and more at the drive-thru event held last Friday at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic School. The event also provided AT&T mobile store services, as well as free wi-fi and computer access to allow residents to sign up for disaster assistance.
Andra Day had never heard of LaPlace before Hurricane Ida ravaged the region on August 29. Recognizing the importance of Louisiana’s culture, she felt called to help the community in its time of need.
“When the hurricane hit, it became clear that we needed to come to Louisiana. New Orleans gets a lot of attention, but there are smaller parishes that have been hit hard by the hurricane. I found Councilwoman Tyra Duhe-Griffin, so it just came together perfectly,” Day said. “I think service is part of who we are. It just felt like the right thing to do. We enjoy this state for everything it offers, and I think the people here need us during these times as well. I can’t be everywhere, but we can focus on one parish at a time.”
Day believes people need to visit the area to understand the impact Hurricane Ida had on the community. She had her boots on the ground at AOL Friday and assisted locals in handing out supplies to hurricane-impacted residents.
“People get very desensitized when they see disaster images on the news. When you’re actually here you see massive oak trees uprooted, roofs gone off of houses, it’s a lot. You see how big the job is and it can seem overwhelming, but you also see it is doable. If we pull our resources together, we can help people get back to normalcy,” Day said.
Councilwoman Duhe-Griffin is dealing with damage to her own property while serving as a support system to the constituents in her community. She said giving back to others is therapeutic for her and provides a much-needed distraction from the devastation at home.
“I’m not here for the recognition. I’m here to make a small difference,” Duhe-Griffin said. “I wanted to focus on the district. It’s very important that we are in the neighborhood, supporting the people who live here.”
Friday’s event would not have been possible without support from charitable organizations.
Assessor Lucien Gauff, president of the Rotary Club of LaPlace, was proud to say that a majority of the materials distributed Friday were donated by Rotarians from Houston, Winnsboro, Slidell, New Orleans, Bay St. Louis and Alabama. From pallets of water to cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, bleach, hygiene packs, battery operated fans and more, the donations addressed just about every immediate need following a disaster.
“Also being the assessor, it’s hard to look at the devastation throughout the parish, but I have not heard negativity. The sense and the feeling is that now is our chance to come back better than before. With the parish giving us this levee protection, I think it gives us a guiding sense to come back and be better,” Gauff said.
Braveheart Foundation founder and LaPlace native Erica Rogers is dedicated to helping residents on the journey to recovery, especially as many in the community face disparities surrounding electricity, Internet access and garbage collection.
Rogers said, “Our organization’s mission is to reach the unreachable, and our motto is humanitarian aid and health equity for all. With the hurricane situation causing trash to pile up around the confines of people’s homes, it starts to become an environmental health issue. I have partnered with Tyra Duhe-Griffin and Andra Day to do a community assessment to see where we can round up volunteers and donations to put trash bins in neighborhoods. We also want to assist elderly and disabled residents in getting their homes cleaned.”
The Braveheart Foundation also started the “Krewe of Vax” and partnered with Align Infusions to administer Pfizer vaccines to community members ages 12 and up during Friday’s event.
“Children are going back to school, and people are coming back into the community from other areas that have high rates of COVID, and we want to minimize that coming back to our parish,” Rogers said.
The Braveheart Foundation’s long-term initiatives include micro-grants to small businesses. Donors interested in partnering with the foundation can email Rogers at email@example.com.
Previous St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom was present at the event on behalf of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which Andra Day is an honorary member of. Robottom said the destruction in St. John the Parish was worse than Hurricane Isaac and the 2016 tornado combined. Sorors helped unload and package supplies, and while the distribution was a one-day event, Robottom promised there will be more.
Service in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida has been an ongoing process at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic School, according to new Principal Doug Triche.
“We’ve been trying to do distributions as often as we can, and we’ve been very successful doing that. Over the past week or so, almost every day, we’ve given out hot meals. We are very excited that we are bringing the whole parish and community together,” Triche said, adding that Knights of Columbus organizations have come from across the region to participate in relief efforts in LaPlace. Some groups have served between 600 and 1,500 meals.
St. John Parish Public Schools were also represented at the recent distribution hosted by Councilwoman Duhe-Griffin.
Coach Brandon Brown and members of the East St. John football team volunteered during the event.
“We always talk about service with our guys. To see them volunteer their own time to come out and help even though they are dealing with the same thing means a lot. It lets me know that we are heading in the right direction,” Brown said. “We want to be a program that’s bigger than just athletics, and this shows that we are.”
School Board President Nia Mitchell-Williams said it meant a lot to see students for the first time in weeks.
“Parents and families are riding through. For the last three weeks, we’ve been kind of out of touch, not knowing how many of our students are still in the parish and what their needs are. It’s good to be able to see faces of children to see we are moving in the right direction. There is still some life and hope in our community,” she said.