This week, a large portion of my home state of Louisiana was devastated by some of the worst flooding in its history. An estimated 40,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, entire neighborhoods have been washed away, and it's been reported that 13 people have lost their lives. Recovery will take a very long time, and the people who have been through so much need all of the support they can get.
As a New Orleans native, I can't help but feel painful echoes of Hurricane Katrina, with its rising floodwater and broken levees that devastated my hometown. Living in Tennessee at the time, I felt a crushing dread as I prayed to hear from friends and family for days. Though we were blessed to not lose anyone in the storm, the weeks and months that followed were not easy. Seeing the devastation of the homes of my grandfather, sister, and much of my extended family made it feel like Katrina was a storm that would never truly pass.
With the flooding this week over much of the state, particularly in and around Baton Rouge, I was relieved to hear from friends that they were okay. Yet each and every one of them had watched water creep into their homes, praying that everything they owned wouldn't be washed away. Lives have been disrupted in ways that won't be restored once the water recedes. There is the trauma of having lost so much, the fear that it will happen again, and, for many, there is also the terrible uncertainty of feeling adrift with nowhere to call home.
That's why those of us who are able must do whatever we can to help. We have to listen to the needs of those affected by the flood and respond accordingly. We must also remember that their needs are not only a concern this week: They are going to need support for months to come.
Here are some ways you donate to relief efforts and, if you're in the area, lending a helping hand.
Donate Money and Supplies
The American Red Cross is accepting donations via text message to support their work in Louisiana — simply text LAFLOODS to 90999 and a $10 donation will be charged to your cell phone bill. If you would like to make a donation of a different amount, you can do so at the American Red Cross website. Make sure to select "Louisiana Floods" on the donation page.
The Salvation Army of Baton Rouge is also asking for monetary donations to help people in need and to provide support for first responders in the area. Donations can be made online by texting STORM to 51555, or over the phone by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY.
United Way of Southeast Louisiana is accepting donations of supplies, such as toiletries, first aid kits, and bottled water. These can be brought in person to their locations in New Orleans and Hammond, or mailed to their Hammond location at the address below. If you are donating items, make sure to check their running list of what is needed at this time. Be advised that clothing and furniture are not being accepted right now.
United Way of Southeast Louisiana
Tangipahoa Regional Office
411 W Coleman Ave.
Hammond, LA 70403
Second Harvest Food Bank — an organization that provides support throughout the year to feed families in need and in response to disasters — is accepting monetary donations as well as food and supplies. Financial donations can be made online, and requested items can be brought directly to their office.
Rouses Market, a local chain of grocery stores, is accepting cash donations, nonperishable food items, and cleaning supplies at all of their locations. You can also donate money online to assist the chain's efforts to provide food and supplies throughout the region.
Volunteer Louisiana organizes for natural disaster response across the state. By registering with them, you'll receive updates about where and in what capacity volunteers are needed. Volunteer Louisiana coordinates with various relief organizations to make sure volunteers are deployed in the most effective ways. Don't just rush out to help; make contact and be part of a team of trained and experienced volunteers.
Louisiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters provides information about volunteer opportunities in the state. You may find that some of these require specific training or experience, but don't let that discourage you. You can always sign up for training now, so the next time there is a need you'll be better prepared to get out there and help.
Remember to Help the Four-Legged
Animal shelters have been taking in displaced pets, but many of these facilities have been damaged in the flood. They need help taking care of animals and supporting pet owners.
Companion Animal Alliance in Baton Rouge needs volunteers and pet supplies like leashes and dog toys. Supplies and cash donations can be brought to the shelter. Monetary donations can also be made online.
Animal Helper of New Orleans has been caring for strays and is asking for supplies like towels, blankets, and leashes. Message them on Facebook for locations where you can drop off any of these items.
In the following days and weeks, the nature of the needs in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region will change. Continue to support reputable local and national organizations like those listed above. Check their websites and social media accounts regularly. The full extent of the damage to homes and lives is still being assessed, and it will take months for the recovery effort to restore what it can.
When disaster strikes, it's the compassion and informed action of people like you that helps survivors to heal.