Day of service commemorates Ida anniversary

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, August 31, 2022

LAPLACE — Over the past year, approximately 2,300 volunteers from 42 different states and four countries have joined forces with the St. John Parish Long Term Recovery Group to assist residents in rebuilding their homes following Hurricane Ida.

In recognition of the one-year anniversary of the third most devastating storm to strike Louisiana, hundreds of volunteers mobilized at New Wine Christian Fellowship in LaPlace for a one-day service event. Wearing T-shirts that read “LOVE St. John,” volunteers provided gutting, painting, fencing and sheetrock installation to 50 impacted households.

The intent was to give encouragement and hope to those who remain displaced from their homes, according to Pastor Neil Bernard, chairman for the Long Term Recovery Group.

“We have assisted 398 families who requested help with everything from putting on roofs to installing sheetrock. Their cases have been closed. We’ve made great progress, but we still have approximately 440 families who have open cases and are still requesting help for the damage caused by Hurricane Ida,” Bernard said.

Marathon Petroleum and Denka Performance Elastomer volunteered finances for the purchase of building materials used during the recent day of service.

“Over the past year, we’ve prioritized investments to help our community recover from Hurricane Ida,” said Marathon Petroleum ESG and Stakeholder Engagement Representative Iman Montgomery. “Our contribution in support of today’s Day of Service shows that we remain committed to helping our neighbors who are still in need. We know that together, we’re stronger, and one year after Ida, we remain proud to do our part to positively contribute to where we live and work.”

In addition to industry partners, the Long Term Recovery Group also consists of nonprofits such as United Way and members of the local faith-based community.

St. John Parish President Jaclyn Hotard and her staff were among the volunteers assisting with rebuilding efforts this past Saturday.

Hotard recalled that Bernard was one of the first people to show up at the Emergency Operations Center and ask, “What can I do?” as the storm was still raging outside. Before New Wine Christian Fellowship was a hub for relief efforts, it was a safe haven for those who were rescued from their flooded homes the night of August 29, 2021.

“There is only so much government can do in a crisis. We rely heavily on our faith-based community to see what the needs of the residents are. They are truly a lifeline for the residents because so many people turn to their pastors,” Hotard said. “This is going to give our residents continued hope that we have their backs, even when they are struggling.”

While the Long Term Recovery Group was also a prominent force in helping St. John Parish rebound from Hurricane Isaac, Bernard said the Hurricane Ida recovery has been a different situation entirely.

“There’s a world of a difference. Unlike Isaac, where it was centralized mainly in the low-lying areas of LaPlace that flooded, Hurricane Ida basically caused damage to 85% of all of the homes in St. John Parish. In addition to the homes that flooded, almost every home had some kind of roof damage due to the severe winds that stayed over our area,” Bernard said. “We are a resilient community, and if you drive through, you can see the amazing progress that has been made.”

Much of the work was completed by a group of 1,400 volunteers with Eight Days of Hope. Other groups have brought in volunteers from high schools and colleges across the country.

Volunteers with All Hands and Hearts were present for Saturday’s LOVE St. John Day of Service. In addition to Hurricane Ida recovery in LaPlace, the group is also assisting communities in Mexico, the Bahamas and Kentucky.

Operations manager Cassie Long said All Hands and Hearts was on the ground in September and October 2021, when power and water were just being restored to the area.

“Right after the hurricane, we were tearing out drywall and getting everything out of the houses before the mold set in. Now we are putting houses back together,” Long said. “The energy is still really good, but there is still a lot that needs to be done.”

Jas Brown, Keirsten Reynolds and Tasia Lewis, members of the East St. John Interact Club, were among the youngest volunteers in the room during the day of service. Since joining Interact, the girls have enjoyed meeting new people while volunteering during Marathon’s Easter event and the St. John Parish Clean Sweep. They were familiar with New Wine Christian Fellowship, having previously volunteered for the annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway and frequent fresh produce distributions at the site.

Helping with Hurricane Ida relief efforts was especially meaningful to the students because they have seen first hand what the storm has stolen from families in the community.

“I know how it feels to lose everything,” Lewis said. “We are still in a FEMA trailer, but we are in the process of getting a new house.”

While the need is widespread, the St. John Long Term Recovery Group has prioritized vulnerable populations, including the uninsured and underinsured, veterans, the elderly, single parents, and those who have a family member with special needs.

Residents who wish to assist in relief efforts may contribute through boots on the ground service or through the donation of building supplies.

Residents still have an opportunity to request help through Catholic Charities, the case manager overseer for the Long Term Recovery Group. For more information, call 985-703-8411.