When you’ve witnessed your home ravaged by floodwater, had no electricity or water for weeks, and rebuilding took years, you develop a particular empathy for those who experience the same pain. Two University View Academy employees had a grim reminder recently when Hurricane Laura came ashore in Southwest Louisiana, destroying homes and livelihoods. Both are four years removed from the Flood of 2016 that inundated the Baton Rouge area. Seeing what Hurricane Laura did caused flashbacks of raw emotion but also spurred them into action.
Teacher Christina Holland and Events Assistant Stacie Reed said they couldn’t sit back and watch. They felt a burning desire to pay it forward, reminded of how friends and strangers came to their aid when their houses flooded in 2016. Mrs. Reed said she was overwhelmed when people would stop by with food as she and her family rehabilitated their home. That touch of kindness stayed with her. So, she and her husband decided to give back by cooking. They first chose the rural town of Colfax in Grant Parish, north of Lake Charles, after hearing stories from her brother, Keith. He told them Colfax was hard hit, and relief supplies were barely trickling in. The Reeds mobilized their family and friends. Some baked cookies and cupcakes and chipped in money to buy ingredients. The Reeds cooked “beefy mac,” ground beef, elbow noodles, and tomato sauce to serve with bread. They loaded up their truck and trailer and headed to Colfax, not knowing what would greet them a week and a half after the storm moved through. “The tears just started to flow. There was just destruction. The trees were across houses, power lines down, no way for people to get to their houses,” Mrs. Reed recalled as she saw what Laura did.
There was a similar outpouring of emotion from Mrs. Holland and her husband when they saw TV news reports about the destruction Hurricane Laura unleashed on Lake Charles. They learned of one family who evacuated to Austin, Texas using their last 500 dollars of savings and the clothes on their backs. “My heart went out to this family, as my family and I were in a very similar situation four years ago. I wanted to pay it forward when I learned of their need,” she said. “My husband and I took clothing and shoe donations, a series of books, toys, and gift cards to them after the family relocated again to Baton Rouge. That allowed the Hollands to help with food until the displaced family received government disaster assistance. “They were so thankful and surprised for the help,” she recounted. The Hollands also set up a GoFundMe account on behalf of the family and asked her fellow third-grade teachers to contribute.
In Colfax, the Reed’s set up their tents, propane cooking burners, and tables in the central part of town. Some residents were curious, and when they learned the Reed’s were serving hot food, the information spread like wildfire. “It was non-stop. People started lining up,” Stacy said. She learned it was the first hot meal for most of the residents since the storm hit. Mrs. Reed and her husband put together 230 plates. Her parents handled the serving line, helped by a family friend, UVA Events Coordinator Shelly Centanni, and her two children.
Later, the Reeds did the same relief effort in Dequincy, another rural town decimated by Hurricane Laura. That trip came with the addition of a lot more volunteers and a thousand dollars in donations raised by word of mouth. One gift came from as far away as Ohio. They fed 375 people in DeQuincy. Also, the UVA BETA Club is exploring ways of raising money for Hurricane Laura Relief as a service project. The people of UVA heeded the call of a caring impulse and followed through by paying it forward.