Volunteer Flood Recovery Focused On Helping Children

Apr 3, 2017

Nearly seven months after historic flooding destroyed homes and schools in southeast Louisiana, residents are still facing a long road to recovery. Among them are thousands of children, whose lives as they knew them were washed away. Some organizations are still making sure the state’s youngest flood victims are getting what they need. Della Hasselle reports.

The numbers are overwhelming. Twenty parishes throughout Louisiana. Roughly 30,000 people rescued. More than 150,000 registered for FEMA assistance.

But experts say those most impacted from the summer floods in Baton Rouge may be a specific population: kids. Karren Harrison with Save the Children explains.

"The level of impact is really significant for young children and we have to respect that and we have to teach the folks that are spending significant time with those children on how to respond to children who have experienced that trauma," Harrison says.

About a quarter of a million students were affected after 22 of the state’s public school districts flooded. Thousands were hit closer to home, when families were forced out of their houses.

Save the Children worked with roughly 8,500 kids in shelters immediately after the waters rose. Workers made childcare available in kid-friendly spaces; they had toys and books, so parents could deal with the logistics of recovery.

"During kind of the, the immediate aftermath of the shelters, it’s really critical for children to spend time playing and just being children," Harrison says. "The shelter does become their kind of everyday life, as they’re there, kind of extended periods of time."

It’s seven months later, and many have made it back home. But experts say the disaster is far from over. Clothing. Bedding. Food. Toys. These are all items families struggle to get, in addition to sheetrock and other things needed after large-scale disasters.

Desiree Doucet can attest. She ended up leaving her IT job to create a service called Adopt a Family, which pairs people in need with those wanting to help. "It was really what my heart was telling me to do," she says. "So I decided to quit my job and pursue this, until the end of the project. And see the project through."

Doucet has gotten large-scale items like furniture to children who months after the storm were sleeping on floors in gutted homes. She’s also learned to look at the smaller details.

She recalls one day she was unloading a mattress for a little girl living in a shed behind her flooded home. Doucet had brought playthings as an afterthought, but suddenly realized how much the girl actually needed them.

"Something told me give her the bag of toys and let her sort through them," Doucet recalls. "You know it’s something we don’t really think about when families lose everything that their children don’t have an opportunity to play. all of their toys are gone."

Claire Cashio, too, has realized the importance of details. She’s worked with an organization called the Baton Rouge Emergency Aid Coalition, or BREAC. They provide families with things that don’t fall in the budget of recovery, like home decorations, or Christmas ornaments.

"We really wanted to provide a way for families to have some semblance of normalcy and some semblance of Christmas," Cashio says."

The group of six moms has also helped with more immediate needs – like making sure low-income school children had enough to eat over a holiday break. They were helping Mighty Moms, the organization that usually feeds these hungry kids.

"Well, they [Mighty Moms] flooded. Their warehouse flooded, 75 percent of their volunteers flooded, and they were absolutely unable right after the flood to continue that. and of course at that moment it’s really critical, even more of these kids aren’t getting enough to eat," Cashio says.

The group stepped in and assembled 2,000 bags of food for kids at schools in several parishes – until Mighty Moms could get back on their feet.

Cashio also helps kids get bedding. So far she’s helped 600 kids who had been sleeping on the floor, just near Baton Rouge. She says because people are still struggling to get back in their homes, they still need the basics.

"It’s ongoing, and we are still raising money, because there are still kids - we are still getting messages daily, almost daily, of people who still have that need," Cashio says.

In the meantime, BREAC says it will be here, working for families, as long as it takes.

This report was brought to you by the Louisiana Public Radio Partnership, and made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.