As rescue calls dwindle and Livingston Parish officials prepare to establish places for the distribution of food, water and vital supplies later this week, volunteers from a host of nonprofit groups and churches are stepping up to deliver hot meals and help gut flooded homes.
“It was a fairly quiet night last night,” said Brandi Janes, deputy director of the parish’s office of homeland security and emergency preparedness, on Wednesday morning. “Now it’s becoming more of a commodities mission.”
Those commodities – food, water and hygiene products – will be distributed to thousands of people from various locations throughout the parish in the coming days, Janes said. The sites – likely set up at school campuses, library parking lots and the like – will be run by the Louisiana National Guard, she said.
“They’ll have MREs – meals ready to eat – and bottled water, hygiene products and possibly diapers and things of that nature,” Janes said.
In the meantime, volunteer groups are beginning to organize their own donation distribution points.
In hard-hit Denham Springs, where an estimated 90 percent of homes were inundated with flood waters, Healing Place Church has turned the old Affordable Furniture building that will be the church’s future campus into a help center.
Inside the gutted warehouse in the 600 block of Florida Boulevard, volunteers on Wednesday sorted through donations of prepared and canned food, bottled water, cleaning supplies, hygiene products, baby food and diapers, placing them on folding tables organized like a makeshift department store.
Michael Campagna, worship pastor for the campus, said he was expecting truckloads of donations by the end of the week and was in need of some shelves before those shipments arrive.
“If we had 50 of those shelving units, life would be a lot easier,” Campagna said. “Otherwise, we don’t have a way to keep all those supplies up off the floor.”
Other donation items being accepted include pillows, blankets, medical supplies, wheelchairs, walkers and oxygen tanks, according to a list provided by city officials, who are partnering in the effort, along with Jefferson Baptist Church.
No clothing is being accepted at this time.
Outside the warehouse, volunteers with Operation Blessing, a faith-based nonprofit devoted to disaster relief, were on hand to help gut houses, while a cooking team from Church of the Highlands’ Dream Center, in Birmingham, Alabama, grilled hot dogs.
“Whenever this happened,” cook Andy Bailey said of the flooding, “we were on the road, ready to roll.”
The team cooked some 5,000 meals outside Bethany Church’s south campus on Tuesday, and predicted they would need to replenish their food supplies Wednesday night after cooking for residents in Denham Springs.
The Highlands Dream Center will continue sending teams – to cook, gut homes and perform skilled labor – for several months as residents recover from the flood, Bailey said.
“Church of the Highlands has 40,000 members and 14 campuses,” team member David Anderson said. “We’ve got plenty of people, and a lot of them are wanting to come down and help out.”
Residents arrived at the help center in a steady stream Wednesday morning, campus pastor Ryan Frith said. When the foot traffic lulled around mid-day, volunteers began taking boxes of food into area neighborhoods and shelters.
Frith said the group will continue to run the donation distribution center for as long as the community needs it during the recovery.
“The mayor and city council have all been so helpful and welcoming,” Frith said. “They feel like they’re receiving a blessing by us being here, but them opening up to us and allowing us to come in and serve is really a blessing to our volunteers.”