Hurricane Ida: Comfort in a Casserole
Today’s Hurricane Ida: Comfort in a Casserole hits a little close to home.
On the morning of August 29th and on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ida became the second-most damaging and intense hurricane to strike Louisiana; my home state. She would make landfall as a powerful Category 4 hurricane decimating entire towns a mere hour away from my own home. And while Baton Rouge, where I live, originally had a bullseye on it, Ida would pivot at the last moment and head east, largely sparing the area that I live. My home was safe, and the time we were without power was minimal. I have friends who were not so fortunate.
I strongly believe, as I did following the 100 year flood in 2016 that affected so many of my friends, that when we are spared, it is our moral obligation to step up for others. It’s the Louisiana way of life, and while we are a strong and prideful bunch, everyone can benefit from having a little something done for them in their time of need. The easiest, most natural way for me is to want to feed folks so when a friend in the heavily damaged, still without power, just got their running water restored, city of Houma, Louisiana joked about how MREs (Meals Ready to Eat- the packaged stuff they give the military) weren’t all that bad, I knew I needed to kick it into gear. Friends do not let friends eat MREs. They just don’t. And especially no friend of mine.
I also knew that if I was going to make the trip down the bayou to deliver some “Sunday Dinner”, I should see if my other food-loving friends wanted to contribute and we could spread the kindness beyond just her family. I blocked her from a Facebook post and within days, the Sunday Dinner: Delivered project took on a life of its own and my vehicle became a comfort casserole caravan.
Today, my husband and I hand delivered 3 deluxe meals (casserole + salad + french bread + snack cake), 3 more with casserole + salad + french bread, and 8 casserole + salad combinations. I dropped the ball with french bread (that was my friend Evey’s genius idea) and I ran out of time for more dessert.
And you may be thinking, you said you had one friend down there, who on earth did you give the others to? My husband questioned the same thing. “Exactly, what are we doing? Just handing food to strangers?”.
Pretty much. YES.
I took care of my friend, her neighbors, and an elderly lady that her husband has been checking in on in Chauvin (super devastated area) by refilling her generator for her. We would’ve delivered to her ourselves, but with all the debris still on the roadways, we were told it would take 3 hours round trip, to go 10 miles! We left her meal in good hands, and I hope she will be so excited to get some home cooking when she has her generator refilled.
So, that left me with more casseroles to find homes for.
There’s a Hurricane Ida response group on Facebook and the families in need are vast. People without generators, with no money for gas to put in a generator even if they had one, gas shortages, people without the ability to sit in the food distribution lines, etc. The list is long. I was confident that a quick post in the group would lead me to the people who might need me most.
This is Nayely. Her sister had a massive tree take out her mobile home and on top of that, the husband recently had surgery. She was so grateful to be able to provide a Sunday dinner for them as they are currently living with her. So, naturally I gave her several casseroles so she and her son could enjoy a meal themselves, too. He was excited for the blue Gatorades- his favorite.
The group also led me these girls:
They haven’t had electricity in 14 days. They do not own a generator. They were all outside because it’s much cooler outside today (thank you, overcast) than it is inside their home. I’m not sure of the family dynamic because it’s none of my business but from what I could gather it’s also several families now living together in the one house that survived just trying to make it day to day recovering from Ida’s wrath. Could you have known all the despair from meeting these chicks, though? No. You could not.
This photo makes me weepy.
The little girl on the right is holding a Pecan Pie Snack Cake. It’s a recipe that will be in my new cookbook coming out in early January. While they were each excited to tell me what kind of casserole they liked, “Yes! I like chicken spaghetti! and I like Shepard’s Pie the most!”, that little girl was so proud of the dessert. She told me all about how pecan pie is her grandfather’s favorite and he was going to be the only one she shared with. My kinda girl.
If we are being honest, I debated a third cookbook. For years. When the opportunity came up for this new one, my heart still struggled with the “why”. Why is this important? How is this going to help others?
Today, that little girl brought it all full circle for me and she is the reason next weekend’s, if there is another round of deliveries, are ALL getting snack cakes.
I wish I had gotten photos with the other recipients, but it’s not always appropriate for photo opps as my husband had to remind me, and …the humidity was doing something fierce with my hair so we had both had enough. Some of the people I met today are having to humble themselves in order to ask for help. And even when accepting, one man wanted to make sure I had more “for the fella across the street who doesn’t come out of his house much”.
This week’s casserole contributors are all eager to do it again this next Sunday, and I’m equally onboard to make another trip as well with more casseroles and this time, more snack cakes. For the love of God, let there be more snack cakes.
There’s some smaller towns that are seemingly being forgotten about, and I was asked today to consider Lockport so that’s probably where I’ll head if I head back, it’s just that heading back down there is a logistical nightmare. Many of the hardest hit areas only allow in those helping with debris removal, the electrical companies, etc. I had to meet one family in the bank parking lot because her neighborhood was yellow taped off. And while I want to serve more families, I am likely volunteering with a larger national cooking team instead. I won’t have my husband to chauffeur me around, so I have to consider my safety as well.
I’ll leave you with some photos I snapped along my travels today. Out of respect for privacy, I kept most of my photos to the downtown area of Houma and not people’s homes.
I felt like this man deserved a Sunday dinner but afraid he’d fall off this roof if I startled him by asking.
There will be no bowling for awhile.
Half of a building reduced to a pile of bricks.
But the bank is open! You’ll need to dodge the noodles, though.
Pumps 1 and 2 are across the street at this Chevron at the entrance of my friend’s subdivision.
My friend’s neighborhood.
And this is just the city of Houma, y’all.
It’s easy to move on to the next thing the news is telling you care about, or to resume your life as normal when you’re no longer affected and your electricity has been restored, but the people in the small towns you’ve never heard of are really, really struggling.
Please continue to keep the people of Southeast Louisiana, especially those towns you’ve never heard of, in your thoughts and prayers. And if you want to help feed them, I’ll be volunteering with Mercy Chefs, a national non-profit started by a New Orleans chef after Hurricane Katrina who felt people deserved a restaurant quality meal in their time of need.
Casseroles to consider:
Chicken & Sausage Gumbo Casserole