The first time Baton Rouge felt like home was around 3 a.m. in January 2004, after making the 15-hour drive from Indianapolis to the Dalrymple exit near my dorm. The Louisiana State University football team had just won the National Championship, and there was a giant sign welcoming students back to campus after a long Christmas break.
I won’t lie, my first semester was hard. I felt like I didn’t fit in, that maybe I moved too far away from home, that maybe college just wasn’t for me, and I didn’t know if I even wanted to go back. But, as I would come to find, I’m a person who gives second chances. And I’m so glad I gave Baton Rouge that chance.
I left Baton Rouge nearly 1 year ago to-date, and as many tough things I went through there, it remains home to many memories I hold dear. There is a house on Olive Street, just West of campus, where I fell in love one chilly October; a sorority house on Lakeshore Drive where I met some of my best friends; a massive football stadium where I spent some of my best Saturday nights; a basement newsroom on campus where I retreated between classes, typing away to meet deadlines; a bar near the overpass where I learned how to make a proper martini; a complex off Corporate where I had my first apartment all by myself; a clothing boutique where I read my first poem for a crowd…among so many others.
And as I write this, many of those landmarks are drowning.
And I know, it isn’t about me, for many in Louisiana it’s about their life, their homes, their childhood, their families. And for that, my heart breaks.
Last week, southern Louisiana was hit with incredible downpours adding up to more than 30 inches of water, overflowing storm drains and various bodies of water in the surrounding areas. The overflowing water has since forced more than 10,000 people out of their homes and into emergency shelters, into the homes of friends and family, or even homeless. As of yesterday morning, more than 70,000 Louisiana residents have applied for federal aid, with more than 40,000 homes reported as having damage.
Even though the rain has paused, forecasters remind the public that all of the water that is currently upstream, must come down, and the water will continue to rise. The American Red Cross has stated this as the worst natural disaster to hit the United States since Superstorm Sandy, despite receiving very little news coverage.
On Sunday morning, I laid in my bed, scrolling through Facebook, reading the status updates from my friends and colleagues in Baton Rouge, many of whom have been displaced. Some of them reported having to evacuate their homes, only to seek refuge at a friend or family’s home, and then evacuate again. Some of them were seeking boats or phone numbers for rescuers to save their elder family members. A former roommate of mine said her parents left her childhood home with nothing but the clothes on their backs, even leaving the family pets behind and only hoping for the best.
By Sunday evening, I was in tears. I think about my friends who are hurting; I think about how much a home means to us as humans; how tough it must feel to leave it all behind. I think about all of the families in a shelter, sitting in someone else’s clothes, sleeping on a cot, or in a sleeping bag, and all the small children not knowing what’s happening.
In all honesty, I’ve escaped any sort of real tragedy my entire life. My childhood home caught fire just a few months after we moved out. The house I lived in during high school flooded after I moved to Louisiana – I visited my hometown and that house shortly after the flood, and it looked terrible.
In Baton Rouge, I skirted Hurricane Katrina by mere miles; the sorority house I lived in at the time served as shelter for those displaced. For Hurricane Gustav, the fence surrounding my apartment complex disappeared in the wind, and many of the apartments below mine were flooded. Sure, I lost power and was stir-crazy, but I suffered no damage.
Even driving to work days after the storm was very emotional – I hated seeing my city in such disarray. Even one of my favorite bars burned to the ground; and with it went my initials I’d carved into the wooden banister during a first date with a boy from work.
But now, I’m 7 hours away from the sinking city I once called home. And I know right now all I can do is help financially, and possibly emotionally, and I can spread the word. If you live far away and have any inkling to help, I want to tell you how.
How to Help Baton Rouge & #LaFlood Victims
For starters, my dear friend and sorority sister, Sarah, is living in Baton Rouge, and has donated hours and hours of her time to helping those in need. She has set up a very helpful Amazon Wishlist for specific items that are needed – many shelters are turning away items that are not on their lists. If you choose to ship to the gift address, they will be delivered straight to Baton Rouge. Sarah has been using her home as a receiving dock for these items and is delivering them to the shelters in need.
Sarah has also set up a GoFundMe account strictly for helping flood victims and volunteers. This is where my awesome mom has made a donation, and we have been receiving multiple updates daily from Sarah telling us where our money is being spent – including receipts – and I can assure you, she is purchasing the exact items that are being requested at the shelters, and from those in need. I say this because I know people, including myself, are weary to throw money at a problem without knowing how it’s being spent. Trust me on this one.
I’m also noting the Baton Rouge Food Bank, as I trusted it with my annual donation when I lived in Baton Rouge. As of yesterday, it was reported the Food Bank had four feet of water in their facility; and they are badly in need of help. For more information on the Food Bank, click here, and to make a monetary donation to the Food Bank, click here.
If you cannot help monetarily, I know they could always use volunteers if you live in the area. Don’t live close? Share this information; spread the word. I don’t think many people realize just how awful this disaster really is. And the thing is, just because the rain has stopped, and even once the water recedes, there are STILL going to be people in need.
As I’ve mentioned all week, if there is anything else I can do to help, please let me know. My home is your home; I cook a delish chili, and I’ve got pillows and blankets for days. If you’re down to bunk with Blanche, we would love to have you.
If there is one thing I know about Louisiana, it is the spirit to continue to rise, no matter what. May this disaster only be proof of that.