BATON ROUGE, La. – In a working-class neighborhood, a bus of 30 student volunteers rolls on. A rotten white picket fence dots a ranch style home, a crib and complementary stuffed polar bear are left out on the curb, ridden with mold, and taped to an icebox are the words, “DO NOT OPEN, UNDEAD INSIDE.”
Amidst the piles of rubble, of rotting memories and sheer devastation, someone had a sense of humor.
“We’re resilient people, but several natural disasters in a row can affect our children, it can affect our grandchildren, it can affect us,” said Jacob Brumfield, associate director for Louisiana State University Campus Life.
Eleven years after Katrina, 112,000 homes in Baton Rouge are flooded once again – 60,000 of those with major damage – and the city is left with over $30 million dollars in repairs.
This prompted the Center for Leadership and Service (CSL) on campus to take action. The organization reached out to students via email, urging them to head down to the site on Labor Day weekend.
“We very often deal with poverty, but this kind of thing is something almost more striking to me in that this can almost happen to anyone,” senior volunteer Kyle Campbell said.
Brumfield said the Louisiana floods in Aug. were “indiscriminate” in their paths of destruction; leaving some homes with nearly eight feet of water damage, water seeped into every home north of the Capital ground to Old South Baton Rouge to the parish outside LSU’s campus.
In efforts to reach out to their fellow college campus, the CSL made a five-hour trek that Friday night, where they stayed just down the street from where Alton Sterling was killed, in an allegedly haunted Civil War infirmary-turned school for the deaf and blind-turned family and youth service center.
The next morning, the crew split up and joined LSU students from Restore 225, a local effort to provide aid to flood victims. One group did demolition work on a house, while the other went to a Red Cross warehouse to pack non-perishable goods to give out to victims.
It was there that Irene Shiarvalloti, an older woman with a thick New England accent, scurried about, breaking down boxes of Honey Nut Scooters like a well-oiled machine. She sat in the break room a couple hours later, where she said she’d been with the Red Cross for 13 years and has been in Baton Rouge since Aug. 23.
“It’s sad,” she said. “These people… it was kind of a rough neighborhood, but they were just totally desolated. You took pictures and you drove down the street, and it just tears up both sides of the roads. I mean everything – their houses are just literally torn down. Sheetrock, woodwork, everything…”
Brumfield, who works to engage college students with their surrounding communities and to integrate the element of service into departments of the college, concurred.
“It’s not just about sheetrock and gutting and putting meal packs together, but also helping families rebuild and reconnect to the community,” he said.
With that, he expressed his gratitude to CSL, who worked to complete 1296 food boxes for families in need, as well as rip out four feet of moldy drywall in three local homes.
“It doesn’t feel good to go through these things, but it’s always good to know you have other students and colleagues who are backing you up and are willing to come help you in your local area,” Brumfield said.
Applications are available until Sept. 30 for students to return to Baton Rouge as part of Beyond Bama’s alternative fall break.