DENHAM SPRINGS -- The two women washing and folding stacks of laundry for flood victims Saturday morning stood out in their bright green T-shirts bearing the words "Team Sonny."
That would be Bryant "Sonny" Ellis, the Alabama man who died while working here as a volunteer a month ago, and the women were his daughters. They'd driven down to finish his shift as a volunteer helping out flood victims by doing their laundry in a trailer set up outside a local church.
Kris Parker and Kim Moore, Ellis’s daughters, recalled the outpouring of support their family has received since Ellis, 72, fell while working as a volunteer and later died of a head injury.
An Alabama man remembered as kindhearted and selfless died Thursday after he was injured in …
Around 1,000 people attended the funeral, and the family received flowers and stacks of hand-written letters from people all over the south. Ellis’s widow got a call from Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“We’ve laughed, and washed, and cried, and washed some more,” Parker said. “But he’s smiling down.”
“He wasn’t one for the spotlight,” added Moore. “He came here to do a mission. He wanted to see how the people here were living.”
The two were able to see how Denham Springs residents were living Saturday, with many businesses still closed and debris still piled outside homes.
Since Ellis was unable to do the work he and other members of the First Baptist Church of Satsuma traveled from Alabama to do, his daughters returned to the parking lot that has become a hub of flood relief and began their shift early Saturday morning.
The trailer with the washers and dryers was parked outside the New Covenant Church, which has housed flood relief workers and acted as a distribution center.
Inside the church's carpeted lobby, black garbage bags and laundry baskets filled with clothes rested against a glass windowpane. The volunteers from Ellis’s church--around a dozen have come in shifts since the beginning of the month--start washing early, and keep at it until the piles of clothes are gone.
“They had the conviction to buy a trailer, fill it with washers and dryers, and go where there is need,” New Covenant Executive Pastor Todd Whirley said of the Satsuma church group. “I’ve had a number of people who have come up to me and wept because of what they’re doing. It’s met a need you don’t necessarily think of.”
A small wooden ramp leads the church members into the 19-foot trailer, where four washers and four dryers are stacked, powered by a diesel generator. Whirley said the generator has run 280 hours since the work began.
The volunteers have done, on average, 35 loads of clothes per day. The soft spoken 49-year-old pastor recalled a local couple crying after a trash bag of their children’s flood-soaked, muddy toys was washed, dried and returned to them, good as new.
Whirley has housed dozens of volunteers each night from All Hands and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, as well as flood victims, and has slept there himself since flooding began. His house in Baton Rouge is dry and full of displaced in-laws.
Ed Russ, Ellis’s best friend for more than 70 years, recalled the outgoing grandfather’s journey from butcher to a retiree who, eight years ago, became a devoted and tireless member of the church Russ had attended since 1969. The two old friends have been close for their entire lives--they even married their wives, who are cousins to one another, on the same day.
Russ also wore one of the green shirts to honor his best friend. His trip with Parker and Moore was his fourth since the trailer was set up. On his first trip, nearing the end of the more than 200-mile journey into Livingston Parish, he glanced out the window while heading West on I-12.
“Twenty miles from here we started seeing the damage, the piles. That’s humbling,” Russ said. “Knowing people lost everything they had, just being able to wash some clothes for them is very, very rewarding.”