Louisiana Catholics reach out to help those hit hard by Hurricane Ida
September 14, 2021 • Catholic News Service

LA PLACE, La. (CNS) — The saying goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

While it will take more than a village, including help from local, state and federal government agencies, to bring relief to southern Louisiana from the devastation left in the path of Hurricane Ida, Covington resident Betty-Ann Hickey recently learned that one person doing one small thing can have an impact.

Hickey, with her son James, her friend Tammy Morris and Morris’ sons Kenneth and Matthew, traveled from St. Tammany Parish to help her friend Father David Ducote, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Church in LaPlace, an area that was heavily devastated during Ida.

“I have never done anything like this before,” said Hickey, director of music at Most Holy Trinity Church in Covington and associate director of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “A true friend means you will be there to help people when they need it.”

Once the storm had passed, Hickey was posting on Facebook that she was OK to friends and family, since phones and emails weren’t going through. While many were responding, it was a plea from Father Ducote about the need in his area for manpower to do clean up, remove trees, gut houses that impelled her to act.

“I didn’t have any damage to my home, so once we got power back, I didn’t want to sit around feeling sorry for myself,” Hickey told the Clarion Herald, archdiocesan newspaper of New Orleans.

Her husband Dennis, who works for St. Tammany Parish and is a permanent deacon, was telling her daily how bad the damage was in the area.

“We who weren’t badly affected have the responsibility to help,” Hickey said. “Today, it’s not us, but the next time, it might be. I would want someone to come help cut a tree off my house.”

She and the Morrises gutted one house that day, helping a family stop mold from spreading further. The reaction to her efforts floored Hickey.

“I posted it on Facebook, and people started reaching out and saying, ‘If you do it again, we want to be part of it,’” Hickey said. “What started last week with me and a friend now has six Catholic parishes and over 50 volunteers (as of Sept. 8.)”

On Sept. 9, she took a crew carrying a truckload of supplies from her parish, Most Holy Trinity in Covington, to Lafitte to help.

Jeannie Callaway, administrative assistant to Father Jared Rodrigue, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell, is helping Hickey coordinate volunteers and get donations of supplies and money to the parishes and people who need it most.

Father Rodrigue traveled first Sept. 3 to Destrehan with several parishioners and $3,000 in donations and helped with the relief effort of food coordinated by the local Knights of Columbus.

Then about 50 St. Luke parishioners helped Sept. 7 with manpower and donations in LaPlace, where they gutted houses and cut down trees (with the help of fraternity brothers with three chain saws) from a list compiled by St. Joan of Arc Church.

Beyond that, St. Luke has become a hub “of sorts” for all efforts archdiocese-wide, Father Rodrigue said.

The priest said the parish put the word out about what’s happening with New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond and the local government in Slidell.

“We’ve canceled all events in our parish to respond to the needs. We haven’t been affected too much, so we are helping others who need more.”

St. Luke has established a website — https://saintlukeslidell.org/ida — where those who want to help can donate money or buy needed supplies that parishes in affected areas desperately need. In less than 24 hours when the site was established, $5,600 and 80 items (tents, pressure washers, hoses, etc.) were donated.

“The hardest part we’ve found is getting manpower,” Father Rodrigue said, especially now that people are returning to work.

“There is a lot of need,” Callaway said. “We’re trying to build a consensus of organizations.” She has reached out to other local parishes, youth groups and high schools to find able bodies to help with cleanup in LaPlace and Lafitte.

St. Luke is working directly with Father Luke Nguyen, pastor of St. Anthony Church in Lafitte, where several Lafitte residents are being housed, to discover immediate needs.

“As people give us their needs, we are meeting their needs,” Callaway said. “It’s important.”

“It is unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to see Catholic Church teaching in its essence — to see faith in action,” Father Rodrigue said. “Hopefully, those who have less damage are seeing they can be of service.”

“There’s great hope in knowing we are capable of giving time and resources and yet it poses a challenge in learning how to do this better and more often in the future, not just when a tragedy strikes,” the priest added.

St. Luke’s Good Sams (Samaritans) ministry that helps with emergency food and utility expenses has been distributing a lot of food and water to hurricane victims.

“We’re kind of a jack-of-all-trades right now,” director Sue Rotolo said. She mentioned how former St. Luke parishioners now living in Georgia filled a U-Haul and their truck full of water, Gatorade, 5-gallon containers of gas and nonperishable food and delivered it to St. Luke to give out to those in need. They came full circle, she said, returning the help they received after Hurricane Katrina.

“They couldn’t wait to get back to help,” Rotolo said. “It truly is a beautiful thing. This may be hard to go through, but people pull through in this community. Everybody wants to help.”

While working on houses in LaPlace, Hickey said New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond told her how bad it was in Lafitte and how they could use anything sent to them.

When Hickey first went to Lafitte Sept. 8, she wasn’t prepared for what she saw. People were living in cars or out in the open because their homes and cars were destroyed by floodwaters.

“There are so many houses still with water; some houses are not even accessible. There is so much water and mud in the yards,” said Hickey, who helped serve 500 prepared meals from World Central Kitchen.

“It’s great that these people sent the food, but you need people to serve the food,” Hickey said. “I am going back to Lafitte where cleaning supplies of any kind (bleach, brooms, wipes, blankets, towels, sheets, rubber boots) are needed.”

Hickey said she is inspired by her Catholic faith to help others.

“In all of this, I see the best of the church. When you read the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles were of one accord — everyone cared for everyone. One who has more should care for one who has less. The church that Jesus founded is that you share what you have. … If we believe in the mission of the church, we have a responsibility to be the hands and hearts of the Lord.”

Hickey said her small volunteer effort has grown well beyond her expectations.

“I never imagined this,” she said. “This proves to me that all it takes is initiative and a couple of phone numbers.”

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Bordelon is associate editor of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.