Long Beach paying it forward

Fundraiser for Louisiana flood victims to be held Sept. 1


Long Beach residents know too well the aftermath of historic flooding — the desperate need for supplies and money after losing everything, gas shortages, the anxiety of being displaced, the monumental task of rebuilding.

The American Red Cross last week called the flooding in Louisiana “the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy.” Many Long Beach residents who were impacted by Sandy say they can identify with the devastation in Baton Rouge and elsewhere.

“I know what they’re going through, and it could be so frustrating,” said Kelly Sullivan, whose husband, Sean, owned Swingbellys, a West End barbecue joint that was seriously damaged by Sandy. “We have friends in Louisiana who were holding fundraisers and sending supplies to us, and the first thing I thought was, It’s our turn to help them.”

After Sandy, the Sullivans, along with the Long Beach Surfer’s Association, Earth Arts and the Janet Slavin law firm, launched Project Pay it Forward, a collaborative effort aimed at helping storm-ravaged businesses in the city rebuild. Now the group has been revived to help the victims in Louisiana — and it is just one of the many groups and individuals in Long Beach who are holding fundraisers or organizing relief efforts, including the Long Beach Fire Department.

As the Herald went to press, 13 people had died as a result of the flooding, more than 40,000 homes had been damaged and more than 30,000 people had been rescued.

“The scope of this is astronomical,” said Meghan McPherson, a professor of emergency management at Adelphi University who was on the ground in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “This is a compounding trauma, because many of the families who were traumatized by Katrina and had to flee, they fled to higher ground in Baton Rouge and now lost everything again.”

Project Pay it Forward, teaming up with the Chamber of Commerce, Project 11561 and a number of local businesses, has launched a drive to collect school supplies and gift cards. A fundraiser is scheduled for Sept. 1, at Billy’s Beach Café, from 6 to 8 p.m., and the proceeds will benefit Denham Springs (La.) Junior High School, which was inundated by more than three feet of water. Supplies can be dropped off at Edward Jones Financial, at 242 W. Park Ave.

“We wanted to do something tied to the schools because it’s that time of year,” said Jessie Farrell, a co-founder of Project 11561, who was displaced after Sandy. “Denham Springs was one of the most heavily hit communities — they started school about a week before, and the floods came in and everything was destroyed. It stirs up the same emotions, as a mom, and the impact Sandy had on families and especially the schools — our kids were displaced from the schools immediately after — and that sense of normalcy is needed.”

McPherson, who is assisting with the effort, said that 90 percent of the homes and buildings in Denham Springs, a city east of Baton Rouge, were compromised.

“I think this event next week is great,” said McPherson, adding that there is a desperate need for supplies. “The school supplies will help these kids have some semblance of normalcy. As we remember, not only do they have nothing at home, but they also lost all their school supplies.”

“We want to get it in the hands of students who desperately need it,” added Sullivan, a financial adviser at Edward Jones.

The Long Beach Fire Department has joined neighboring departments to collect gift cards from Walmart or Home Depot, as well as cleaning supplies, baby formula and other items, which can be dropped off at LBFD headquarters at 1 West Chester St.

“Everybody came out of the woodwork to help us — the community, and not just the Fire Department,” said Fire Chief RJ Tuccillo. “A little give-back, a gift card or something like that, just to help out and ship it down there, is the least we can do. Whatever we can do to help out, we’re on it.”

Lido Beach residents Jamie and Christina Shaw — who were displaced from their Long Beach home in the Canals by Sandy — were also compelled to help. They took to social media to let people know that they are collecting items such as toiletries and blankets, and are hoping to collect $2,500 in gift cards to send to Louisiana. Items can be dropped off at 46 E. Park Ave. or 2086 Wantagh Ave.

“Obviously, we were really affected by Sandy, and we want to pay it back, because people were so kind to us,” said Christina, an Allstate insurance agent in Wantagh. “People are being so generous — some guy dropped off a $100 gift card this morning. So many stepped up during Sandy and reached out — whether they helped us move back in and things like that — and this was our way to make a small difference.”

On its website, the city encouraged residents to donate to the United Way’s Southeast Louisiana Flood Relief program at www.unitedwaysela.org/flood, while McPherson recommended sending donations to the Second Harvest Food Bank or the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.

“It will take years for people to recover there,” McPherson said. “They’re still recovering in New Orleans, and we’re still recovering from Sandy, and there’s no set timeline for recovery. There’s a misconception that people will be able to be made whole — but when you lose so much, it’s almost impossible to be made whole again.”