A Flood of Caring
By Autumn Cafiero Giusti ’00
"There is a house in New Orleans," begins one of our city’s most iconic cultural references— the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun."
"There was a house in New Orleans," many of our Katrina stories respond.
And now, there's Baton Rouge, with no song and far less national reference—ruined with absence, a neglected pain.
We learned during Katrina that our state’s true colors shine in these moments. And in large part, they're beautiful. There are beautiful people here who believe in saving one another.
Loyola is proud to support this kind of stately communion—men and women for others, commitment to service.
It's even prouder to name those members of the community who fight for it on the ground—however they can. Like Ellen Rice. Kate Gremillion. John Reinagel.
This is you, Loyola. These are alumni, graduates of a school that teaches its students to care about the disenfranchised, to serve those in need, to care about
"strangers" as their own. But not strangers. Baton Rouge, these people—they're your brothers and sisters. They are crying, suffering.
And your friends, your family—the Loyola community: They’re offering support to these people.
You are part of this club. People are calling for us. They need us.
And many of us are responding.
With Our Hands
Because of Katrina, Ellen Rice '12 (sociology) learned how to wield a hammer. Because of Loyola, she learned how to use it to rebuild lives.
Building on her past experiences constructing homes after the 2005 hurricane, Rice traveled to Baton Rouge in August to supervise volunteers with the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit that helps communities rebuild after disasters.
Rice is just one of several Loyola alumni who have stepped up to help Baton Rouge area residents recover from the summer's historic flooding. Some solicited donations, while others, like Rice, showed up to tear out soggy drywall and rebuild in earnest.
"The whole Jesuit ideal is to really force you to be aware of not only yourself but other people and your place in the world," she says. "So I think for students who are interested in being involved in something in New Orleans in a meaningful way, the St. Bernard Project is a great way to do that."
Rice volunteered with the St. Bernard Project throughout college to help the city rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and then came back for two terms after college as a site supervisor with the organization's AmeriCorps program. So when the St. Bernard Project put out a call for past site supervisors who could help lead volunteers in Baton Rouge, Rice felt compelled to step up.
Working in Baton Rouge with the St. Bernard Project ended up being a homecoming of sorts for Rice, whose assignment was to supervise a group of Loyola University Community Action Program volunteers. Rice was active in LUCAP as a student and ran the organization’s hunger relief project for three years.
"LUCAP was very involved in gutting and mucking right after Katrina in New Orleans," Rice says. "So it was kind of cool to see that continue."
With Our Minds
The outpouring of relief for Baton Rouge included assistance from alumni who traveled great distances to be of service. One of those was Kate Gremillion ’12 (communication), who had just moved to Atlanta over the summer to grow her business, Mavenly + Co. When she heard about the flooding in her hometown of Baton Rouge, she didn’t waste any time.
"It was a no-brainer for me to help if I could get into the city," she says.
Gremillion's father is chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, and her mother works at Woman’s Hospital, so she realized there would be a shortage of supplies like scrubs and feminine hygiene products.
She put a message on Facebook asking friends to donate whatever they could. Within a matter of days, she ended up getting $800 in donations. That weekend, she drove in from Atlanta and stopped in Gulfport, Miss., to pick up $600 in sundries and essentials. She used the rest of the money to buy bulk items at Costco in New Orleans. She also went to her family’s home, which did not take on water, and emptied out closets to find clothes to donate. She was able to deliver items directly to people she knew who had lost their homes and cars.
In total, Gremillion raised more than $1,000 to buy supplies for people in need. She was impressed that even acquaintances made individual donations of $100 or more. "I was just the messenger, so it was humbling," she says.
With Our Hearts
The devastation in Baton Rouge was the first time some alumni had experienced a disaster and a relief effort of this scale. John Reinagel '97 (political science) had participated in service projects in and around New Orleans before, both through his place of worship, GracePoint Church in Destrehan, and his fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. He’d worked at food pantries and visited nursing homes, but he had never taken part in a volunteer effort as far-reaching as the one in Baton Rouge. And because he lived outside of Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, he had never seen that much destruction in person. "You’d drive down the road, and there was just a wall of furniture and debris," he says. “You couldn’t even see the houses because of the mounds of trash in front."
Reinagel was one of the key players at his church who helped coordinate efforts to assist flooded residents. By soliciting donations from both the congregation and the surrounding community, the church secured three truckloads of water, food, and other essentials.
Reinagel and his 8-year-old son, Will, traveled to Baton Rouge with their church group one Saturday to deliver supplies and help clear out homes and businesses.
Reinagel was particularly struck by the scene at a Baton Rouge beauty shop that flooded. "It looked like someone came in and just threw stuff around," he says.
The woman who owned the shop had been in business for more than 10 years. The house she and her family had just built and moved into also flooded. "She lost her house, her mom lost her house, and she lost her business," Reinagel says. "So you just keep hearing these stories."
Although residents still have a long way to go, Reinagel says he was grateful to have had the opportunity to be there for people at a time when they felt the most vulnerable.
"We spent a lot of time working, but we also spent a lot of time just sitting and talking to people there," he says. "It was therapeutic for them. We got as much appreciation for just listening to them as we did for actually lending a hand."