The Links present $500 gift cards to local families; Organization makes meaningful impact

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2021

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LAPLACE — Two local families impacted by Hurricane Ida will be able to breathe a little easier this holiday season after receiving $500 Walmart gift cards from the Pontchartrain Chapter of The Links, Incorporated.
The Links worked in partnership with Rising Star Baptist Church in LaPlace to identify families in need.

While the Pontchartain Chapter of The Links, Incorporated is based in New Orleans, President Shaniece Bickham said the service area extends to LaPlace. With St. John the Baptist Parish particularly hard hit by Hurricane Ida, The Links knew it would be important to connect with members of the community who could identify families in need.

Co-chair Jinx Coleman Broussard reached out to her sister, Betty Clement, who is deeply involved in the St. John the Baptist Parish community. Within an hour, Clement had connected with Pastor Donald August and Missionary Melia Wood of Rising Star Baptist Church to identity two families in need.

Clement has had a relationship with Rising Star Baptist Church for more than two decades, and she said helping The Links coordinate the gift card giveaway has reinvigorated her passion for philanthropic work in the community.

Also assisting in the effort were Leila Eames and Claudia Clark, program chair and chair of the arts committee, respectively, for the Pontchartrain Chapter of The Links.

Joyce Osum was joined by her granddaughter Madison Ooezene and grandson Myles Clement as she received a $500 gift card outside of the church Sunday morning.

“It means a lot because my husband and I are retired, so we are on a fixed income. I have my granddaughter in private school, so we are struggling to pay for that, and we are still trying to replace clothes that we lost in the storm,” Osum said.

The family sought shelter with Osum’s daughter in Arabi after receiving four inches of water in their home. With such a long commute, Osum realized she needed to stay in her storm-battered home on weekdays to get Madison to school on time.

A new roof is coming soon, bringing hope for a return to normalcy. Osum is thankful to have support in a time of need.

“When you think that everybody has forgotten about you, God always has something to send back to you. It means a whole lot to us,” she said.

Cliff and Samantha Williams were able to move back into their house just last week, but they won’t soon forget what they endured as Hurricane Ida’s eye wall ravaged the River Parishes.

Cliff Williams was taking a picture of a leak in the ceiling when it caved in without warning, striking him and his wife in the head.

“My oldest son was trying to help us,” he recalled. “We were trying to get out. We couldn’t get out. We had to stay in the garage the whole night. My baby was whining and whining.”

Receiving a $500 gift card Sunday morning was a blessing after everything they’ve endured since August.
“We’re really appreciative,” Samantha Williams said. “They didn’t have to do it, but they nominated us, and we appreciate that. Every little bit helps.”

The Links, Incorporated is a nonprofit organization of about 16,000 women across the United States, the Bahamas and the United Kingdom. Bickham said natural disaster response is one way the Pontchartrain Chapter impacts the community.

“As a chapter that focuses on service to the community, we wanted to be able to assist in a meaningful way,” Bickham said. “Our two pillars are friendship and service. Us connecting not only with the church but also with the specific families really speaks to our dedication to making sure we have an impact.”

According to Broussard, Walmart gift cards were selected so families wouldn’t have to travel far to have their immediate needs met. She said it was important to The Pontchartrain Chapter that the gift cards went not just to individuals, but to families with children in need.

A focus on family is part of the organization’s commitment to the community. On a global scale, The Links service five major facets: health and human services, the arts, services to youth, national trends and services, and international trends and services.

For the past two years, The Links have offered free mammograms during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and these services have successfully led a few women to early detection of cancer. When a woman was diagnosed following a screening event last year, The Links followed up with her treatment and provided assistance with food and transportation.

The Links provide mentorship to approximately 30 girls at McDonogh 35 High School. The chapter works closely with youth and the arts, facilitating participation in a national art contest and purchasing items for band programs through the Keep the Music Plan. The group has also provided band uniforms and paid for private art and music lessons.

Internationally, The Links have taken boots on the ground to Haiti. They are currently working with students in Ghana by purchasing desks for classrooms.

The chapter keeps an eye on national trends by assisting with voter registration drives at New Orleans high schools, holding forums for candidates and traveling to Baton Rouge to convene with state representatives and senators.