by the Very Rev. Dr. Roman Roldan, Rector, Grace Church, St. Francisville, & Dean of the Baton Rouge Deanery-
Sunday, August 14, 2016, 9:00 AM: Twitter and Facebook announces that Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge has opened Stage 7 as a temporary shelter and they are expecting 600 people by the end of the day. The posts state that they don’t have enough resources or volunteers. The posts also ask that people “spread the word” via Social Media. My family and I decide to go after church to see if there is anything we can do to help. We knew there were people affected in this area, but local officials were just beginning to do an assessment and it was unclear what would be expected of us yet. We thought we would start tat Celtic and then move our efforts to West Feliciana Parish as soon as we became aware of the need.
Sunday, August 14, 2016 12:00 Noon: We arrive at Celtic and witness a remarkable scene. The line of vehicles waiting to deliver supplies is three blocks long and moving slowly. There are civilian volunteers with make shift traffic signs directing us to where we needed to go. There were dozens of people who had park as far back as half a mile to a mile away, walking their supplies to Celtic. School and CAT buses kept arriving every minute with hundreds of displaced people from various points in Baton Rouge and Walker. This was a purely volunteer-led effort and we saw no police, National Guard, FEMA, or Red Cross people that first day. Healing Place Church had about 100 young people helping, they also brought 800 meals that evening. All churches in the area were well represented. We saw Roman Catholic priests, young folks wearing camp shirts that read “Hardtner”, “Solomon”, “Marydale” and so many others. Church groups wearing identifying logos, LSU students by the dozens, and even the Boy scouts were there with their leaders.
We arrived at a drop off point and a swarm of people run to us to help us unload the car. We had brought blankets, comforters, pillows, and some food. I asked the older person I found, “What do you all need?” He answered, “Pillows, man! We can’t seem to get enough.” We leave two of our children behind to help the volunteers and drive to Target where we spent $1,000 dollars on pillows and bedding supplies. We returned about an hour later and started helping in the warehouse. The scene was chaotic, as no one seem to be in charge, but things were getting done. Throughout Stage 7 volunteers were sorting out clothes, piling diapers in a specific section, over-the-counter meds were taken to a nurse and two volunteers who had set-up a table at a corner of the building, water had its own section, as did food. Everyone was running, everyone seemed to be talking at the same time, no one had any answers, and most people just found a spot where they thought they could be of use and started doing what everybody else was doing. In the meantime, the buses kept arriving and Celtic opened Stage 6 to accommodate them, because it was obvious we were going to need Stage 7 for supplies. From time to time, we would get an older volunteer who would ask us, “Have you had any water? Here, grab this and take a break!” At some point an older couple arrived with a huge cooler of home-made sandwiches and we all grabbed one and kept working, We didn’t care what was in the sandwich, all we cared about was that it was good. At some someone shows up with 4 piping hot boxes of Starbucks coffee. For a few seconds she became the most popular person on Stage 7. The now caffeinated volunteers keep unloading trucks, building piles of clothes to sort out later, and making space for other volunteers as they arrive. The mood is elevated, energies are high, adrenaline seems to be coursing freely through our veins, and work is getting done. We leave in the evening as a new wave of volunteers arrived. On our way home we decided to make jackson Hall a drop off center for supplies and to blast the needs at Celtic via Social Media. My wife and daughter waste no time and begin to Facebook everyone they know locally.
Monday, August 15, 7:00 AM. Jackson Hall is open for business and people are already arriving to drop off supplies. A number of youth arrive to help unloading cars. A group of volunteers are inside Jackson Hall separating items into various tables for easy packing and delivery. At around 8:30AM we got our first driver volunteer. We load up her car and mine and Emily, my oldest daughter, Austin, my son, and I, head out to Celtic. My wife stays behind with a small army of volunteers to continue to receive supplies. By the end of the day they will have sent 15 loaded cars and trucks with supplies to Celtic Studios. We hear Dr. Travis or local Sports Medicine doctor has turned his office into a make-ship drop off center as well and is also sending packed trucks to Celtic. He also has a small army of volunteers helping him at his office. Social Media keeps buzzing with new needs, instructions as to where to go, addresses of new shelters opened during the night, and what specific volunteers were needed.
When we arrive at Celtic and we are surprised that the scene is now orderly. The Red Cross and the National Guard are now on site and they are in charge. We all have to register, we are assigned to where we are needed, and the atmosphere is not as chaotic as yesterday. We learn that one of the greatest needs is translators. I get to work immediately at the medical tent translating, while my daughter joins the gofer crew and starts getting supplies for people who need them, and Austin joins the “Water Crew” that a body from Saint Francsiville is working at. In between translations at the medical site, I walk around and introduce myself to the Spanish speaking families. They willingly tell me their stories. There is a large group of Mexicans with their families who live in Central. They lost their trailers and all their possessions. The men work for a grounds-keeping service, but haven’t been able to get in touch with their boss. They don’t know what they will do for housing, start-up money, or schooling for their kids. They are grateful they are safe and ask for prayers. They like their boss and believe he will help them re-settle, but the longer they are unable to get in touch with him the more anxious they become.
There is a group of about 30 nursing home patients from a home near Walker. I stop to say hello and soon engage an older lady in conversation. She is grateful the doctors at Celtic have been taking good care of her because she has diabetes. She recounts how she had to be rescued in a boat and how scared she was. She says the “boy” who rescued her and several of her friends was no more than 12, but, “He was a strong little fella!” She doesn’t remember his name, but has prayed for him several times since getting to Celtic. The group will be relocated to another nursing home “up north”, but she doesn’t know where. Most of them were “grateful to be safe.”
I met people from all backgrounds, races, and ages who are now safe because of hundreds of volunteers from around the state. I feel extremely moved because I have seen the best of humanity in the last few days. This is the Lousiana many of us love. Together in spite of our differences! United in common purpose for the sake of those in need. We are more alike than many people think. It is easy to polarize us when it comes to politics, but when it comes to our humanity, no rhetoric can divide us. This week we are neither black nor white or Hispanic. We are fellow travelers working together to alleviate the needs of our brothers and sisters. I don’t know about you, but this brings me great hope.
The hard work is just beginning. Please consider contributing financially to our cause. Send a donation to Episcopal Relief and Development or the Bishop’s Professional Fund. More information here: https://www.edola.org/flood-relief