As Meredith Beers, JLNO Diaper Bank Committee Chair, was flying home from Houston over South Louisiana on Friday, August 12, she could see the water in places where homes and roads should be and realized, “This is far worse than we thought.”
At the same time, JLNO President Maria Pardo Huete was in contact with the Junior League presidents of Baton Rouge and Lafayette to offer support and consulting with the JLNO Board of Directors on ways to help if the situation required it. A letter she drafted went out on Sunday, August 14 to all JLNO members calling for action. Susan Langenhennig of the Times Picayune posted it that evening on nola.com.
That Monday, the donate button on the League’s website went live and members began donating to the flood relief project and sharing the link on social media.
And on Thursday, August 18 – just four days after the initial letter to the League was sent – 40,000 diapers and baby products along with $2,000 in gift cards were headed to Junior League of Baton Rouge to assist those in need on a truck donated from All My Sons Moving. Local businesses reached out to assist the League in delivering donations to the flood zones in recovery. Bart’s Office Furniture & Repair donated a truck and labor to deliver 140,000 diapers to the Church of St. Amant. Ralph’s on the Park delivered 20,000 JLNO diapers in their truck of relief supplies when they went to cook for the flood victims. Countless businesses and organizations in the Crescent City reached out to support JLNO’s objective: to help our neighbors.
Even the United States Postal Service pitched in to help Louisianans in need. Just a few days after JLNO’s relief work began, six large USPS trucks pulled up outside of Headquarters to drop off gifts from across the country. Forty states have contributed $65,000 that directly assisted flood victims. More than 334,000 diapers have been collected and distributed – a number that rivals the League’s annual Diaper Bank goal. The League has also received and distributed 176,000 diaper wipes, 53,000 feminine products, 16,000 ounces of infant formula, $14,000 in gift cards and tens of thousands of other toiletry items.
While the Diaper Bank resources have been the focus of JLNO’s giving, the Junior League is offering its assistance for other items as well. In New Iberia, the Disch-DeClouet Social Service Center needed items that the JLNO Diaper Bank would normally supply but also socks, undergarments, clothing, bedding, 1,000 one-pound bags of dried beans, 1,000 jars of peanut butter and 1,000 cans of tuna for the area’s flood victims.
LEFT: Rain or shine, JLNO members working hard to load donations for transport. Photo by: Carrie Moulder RIGHT: President-Elect Kristen Koppel, Diaper Bank Chair Meredith Beers and President Maria Pardo Huete taking a road trip to deliver much needed supplies. Photo by: Carrie Moulder
Carol Gaignard, the secretary of the Disch-DeClouet, a United Way organization, was amazed when a U-Haul crewed by Maria Pardo Huete, Meredith Beers and President-Elect Kristen Koppel pulled up to say JLNO was there to deliver their wish list and then began unloading. “[They] worked like Trojans,” said Carol, who was even more astonished to find out that the driver of the big truck was our League President.
Our leaders are setting the high standard for what being a member of JLNO means today. Maria not only sounded the trumpet but has determinedly labored alongside provisionals, actives and sustainers in the relief. Meredith, who saw the devastation from the air, has worked countless hours in her role as chair of the Diaper Bank Committee to ensure the donations coming in are distributed efficiently. Kristen manned Headquarters every day for two weeks receiving shipments. Members past and present are taking their cues from these leaders and committing their gifts and services to the Junior League’s operation.
When asked about the success of this campaign, Maria said three things came to mind:
“Being specific about the needs of the mission is important. We focused on diapers, wipes, formula and hygiene items. This gave people something specific with which to help. It also opened her eyes to the need for diapers – an item that is a luxury for those without access to them because of cost or, in this case, disaster/emergency.
“Our small Board of 13 leaders is nimble and able to act quickly. This was very instrumental in mobilizing JLNO’s resources. A larger board with a division of governance and management would not be able to spring to action in the same way.
“Seeing JLNO do exactly what it is purposed to do is amazing – voluntarism at its purest form. The Junior League is at the forefront of helping people in need.”
The flooding of water was worse than we could have conceived. But the flood of donations and voluntarism is greater than we could have hoped. It has shown us what we can accomplish when we truly come together in our state and across our nation, League to League, person to person. We are not only “Women Building a Greater New Orleans,” but women who are embodying AJLI’s vision as well: “Catalysts for Lasting Community Change.”
“There are times I have been proud of the Junior League, but I have never been so proud as I am now to be a New Orleanian and a League member,” Kristen professed.