Here is our story. 6 months ago today Hurricane Laura passed over Southwest Louisiana leaving a trail of unprecidented destruction as the strongest hurricane to strike Louisiana and even more rare, one of the strongest in history to make a direct hit on a major American city, Lake Charles.
How have we done this? Here’s how. Over the last 6 months we have reached over 10 million people for Lake Charles through social media by sharing our stories and those of the survivors we have been helping. Our social media reach is driving our efforts. We need the media and news to report disasters, but when they stop, we are still here doing it. Quite simply, we utilize our burgeoning social media reach to bring in supplies and volunteers. Hurricane Laura was the 6th most Googled news term in 2020. We helped drive that awareness. Our organization added 60,000 new followers in the last 6 months to now over 124,000. Think about where we will we be in a few years. We are going to continue growing into a disaster relief juggernaut powered through those citizens with empathy for their neighbors who will give of themselves selflessly and show up to assist those in need.
Day 0. Our founder, Rob Gaudet and a small team of 5 initial Cajun Navy volunteers were invited by Grand Casino Coushatta 2 days before Laura stuck to base our operations. They wanted us to have a place to recoup and sleep and to ride the storm out. With the support of tribal chief, David Sickey, we were given room 316 where over the next 6 weeks hundreds of volunteers eventually stayed. Some sleeping in the room, some sleeping on the hotel conference center floor and all of us using the only shower available to us in room 316. (But not all at the same time ). While we were grateful for a place to sleep and shower, we needed more. Sleeping on the floor was difficult after long days of hard work in the sun where sometimes temperatures soared over 100 degress. Rob actually developed a double eye infection that lasted a week, eventually going to the ER in Oakdale at 3am to get it treated. We rode the storm out at the hotel but didn’t sleep the night she struck. Instead, we stood outside and marveled under the enormous portico as the winds of a now category three hurricane battered the trees, light poles and cars in the parking lot. Once the winds died at 6am, our team geared up and made the hazardous 30 minute trek into Lake Charles, The City With No Light. We gathered in the Lake Charles Civic Center parking lot and developed a plan, where we decided to immediately start clearing debris from roads. After helping in the southeast corner of the city that first day, we met up with a group of volunteers in town from Cincinnati. We decided our combined efforts would be greatest in the most underserved region of Lake Charles, the northern community of Gosport. Over the next 8 days, word got out that the Cajun Navy was in town and hundreds of volunteers showed up with chainsaws, water, food and supplies ready to help. We based operations from the Walmart parking lot on hwy 171. On day 8, once the effort to clear every road in Gosport was complete, we then moved our operations into the heart of the city in downtown Lake Charles. At this point we took on four simultaneous missions! 1) clear homes, 2) provide supplies, 3) feed people 4) tell stories. In the next 18 days we hosted hundreds of volunteers coming in from around the country. Based off of our Facebook posts bringing awareness to the immense needs of the community, volunteers gassed up their cars and drove here from as far away as Michigan and Arizona. Folks bought plane tickets and flew into Houston or New Orleans and we even drove and picked them up. Using the crowdsourcing features of our custom developed platform, CrowdRelief, we found volunteers and supplies and effectively crowdsourced this disaster. Together across a 5 parish region, our teams cleared debris from over 1000 homes, fed over 50,000 people and collected, delivered and distributed tons of supplies, gas, food, flashlights. We received more flashlights than God after we realized many elderly were now living without power and were in the dark. We made a post asking for urgent assistance for these folks which went viral, being seen over 2.5 millions times. People responded and from across the country they sent the Cajun Navy flashlights which we delivered and distributed across the region. We also used our professional experience effectively running restaurants to create a drive through food line on the busiest intersection in the city, Ryan street and Broad. We consistently served thousands of meals to folks coming and going from Lake Charles, an amazing achievement where we served over 50,000 meals in under 18 days. We needed an enormous amount of food to achieve this and relied on both purchsed and donated food items. Each day we prepared such things as burgers, ham, bbq, fajitas, jambalaya, sausage cooking everything on the sidewalk on our two portable grills. An assembly line of volunteers who boxed the items inside of a building next to us and handed the food and water out to community of homeowners, citizens and workers coming and going from the city. We wrapped up around 6pm nightly and our team and volunteers met to prepare for the next days meal service. We had to be ready with food and supplies for serving everyday. The enormous success of the effort and how expertly it was executed is a testiment to the power of remaining positive through every situation. The words our founder used that carried us when things got hard were simple. Let it go and stay positive, our response needs to be an equal but opposite response to the remarkable and destructive negative impact of hurricane Laura. Our motto became “under promise and over deliver”. Despite significant negativity that each of us endured in delivering this relief, we centered around the notion of staying positive. Disasters bring enormous negativity to the people in a community. However we can only counter that negativity through positivity in every action. This creates vulnerability, but we remained positive in those moments as well.
For the last 4 months we have been based in downtown Lake Charles, where we knew we would be able to meet needs for the most vulnerable in the city. We continued that effort this month with the ice storm and were able to distribute hundreds of heaters to elderly across the region, paid for hundreds of nights of hotel rooms, and even provided shelter for the homeless in our own facilities.
We don’t know what the future holds, but with creativity, finesse, communication, patience and empathy we are like a liquid filling every crevice in a container, we take on challenges, under promise and over deliver.
We invite you to scroll through our Facebook page and watch the hundreds of real people affected by Laura in the videos, photos and words we’ve posted since August 28, 2020.
May God bless those who lost their lives to hurricane Laura and the survivors who are still struggling today.
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