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A Flood Story


A Deluge of Books: Louisiana Flood Disaster, One Year Later

Missy Pique could write the book on how to quickly get curricula into the hands of homeschoolers after a disaster.

Facebook is her number-one recommendation for channeling book donations directly from donor to recipient.

“It’s very expeditious,” she said. “There’s no waste.”

She should know. Pique was an integral member of the HSF Louisiana Ambassador Team that responded to last August’s crisis in southern Louisiana: a dangerous “1,000-year flood” whose ravaging waters caused millions of dollars in property damage, including thousands of dollars of destroyed homeschool libraries. Along with new Ambassadors Dr. Roger and Jan Smith (then presidents of CHEF of LA), Nicole Cutrone, and a handful of other volunteers, Pique labored for months helping homeschooling flood victims replace their waterlogged curriculum. 

An Outpouring from Across the Nation 

The HSF Louisiana Ambassador team was formed within days of the August 12th flooding. Composed of volunteers from the flooded region and unaffected areas, the team organized a quick-response network to help with immediate needs such as drinking water and diapers. They also started the process to collect donations of money and curriculum to later distribute.

 Louisiana Ambassador Team

Pique set up a Facebook group to handle the flow of schoolbook donations even before she volunteered with HSF. She was overwhelmed by the widespread generosity she saw. “Word spread like wildfire, like it does in the homeschool community,” Pique said. “The outpouring that came from across the nation was tremendous. Homeschool organizations loaded up minivans [of books] and drove down.”

The greatest response was from homeschool organizations in Oklahoma, Florida, and North Carolina. “They are the ones who responded first because they know what it’s like to have disaster strike,” Jan Smith said.

One Florida group had generously filled up a U-Haul van with books on a Friday, but as they prepared to leave on Saturday morning, they received notice that their own hometown was being evacuated due a hurricane. The group later mailed their donations (at substantial expense) in time for the second Baton Rouge giveaway.

Donations included more than just books. A homeschool mom and pediatrician from Texas donated furnishings for an entire office that she was closing. After contacting the Facebook group, she worked with Pique to locate a local pediatrician’s office that needed outfitting. “Being an HSF Ambassador, you kind of feel like Santa Claus sometimes,” Pique mused. “You know that there’s a place this stuff is meant to be. There’s a doctor, there’s a practice that is supposed to get this.”

Giveaways Produce a Deluge of Books 

Shoppers at Baton Rouge giveawayCrossPoint Baptist Church in Baton Rouge graciously hosted two curriculum giveaways.

The first was held just two weeks after the flood, which Roger Smith says was too soon for most flood victims. “They had no place to take their books. They were [living] in a hotel room or someone’s basement.”

Ultimately, however, the giveaways were a huge success. “We completely filled a classroom with boxes of books and school supplies. We could not have done it without their help and generosity,” Nicole Cutrone said. She spearheaded both Baton Rouge events with the help of 25 volunteers and CHEF of Baton Rouge, which she and her husband lead as co-presidents.

Leftover materials headed for Pique's barnThe HSF ambassador team also set up a curriculum distribution hub in Lafayette.The Lafayette distribution center was hosted by a local church on an ongoing basis. Homeschooling families could stop in by appointment to collect the material they might need to start school that fall. Pique searched for another location in Baton Rouge to host more materials, but so many churches were already full, hosting relief volunteers. Later that fall, a third location opened in Zachary to accommodate the leftover materials from the first two locations, which were being kept in Pique’s metal barn. 

“It was overwhelming—the volume of books we received. We filled up the room we had available and finally had to start telling people to stop sending books,” Cutrone said. “It was just too many.”

The leftover curriculum that didn’t make its way into the homes of flood victims was sold on a donation basis to other homeschooling families, with all proceeds going to the Louisiana State Ambassador Fund and matched by HSF. Pique was relieved that it was all distributed or sold by Christmas.

Over 200 families were helped through the curriculum giveaways and grants, including 65 families who received financial assistance through HSF and Ambassador funds, totaling $34,100.

The Ambassador team was able to help so many people by focusing their efforts on the particular problems they were equipped to solve.

“One of the things we learned was that different organizations really have their ‘lane,’ so to speak, of helping,” Roger Smith observed. “We were trying to do some things we weren’t well equipped to do, and we realized we had to pull back.”

When people offered to help in ways beyond Ambassador functions, the ambassador team referred them to other appropriate venues. For example, they sent building volunteers to Samaritan’s Purse and food volunteers to the Red Cross. The Ambassadors’ primary functions were curricula collection and distribution and the raising of money to help with emergency and essential household needs.

Safe and Dry—in FEMA Trailers

Many flood-affected families have rebuilt their homes or moved away after selling their damaged homes at a loss. But other families still patiently reside in FEMA trailers 12 months after the disaster, like Kariina and David Persyn and their teenage son Ordway, who fled the flood with whatever they could carry.

Persyn family

“We waded out into chest-high water with our backpacks and two cat carriers to get away to our car,” Kariina recalled.

Along with other families, Kariina received an HSF Ambassador Fund grant. She used part of hers to pay for a dental visit and a Boy Scout uniform for Ordway, who is working hard to earn his Eagle Scout badge. “We are proud of his tenacity,” Kariina said.

The Persyns are not an isolated case. Just this past July, Jan Smith worked the HSF booth at a homeschool conference and saw many familiar faces. “Some of them are ones that we helped [at last fall’s curricula giveaways], and they are still in FEMA trailers in their front or side yard. Last year, the need was for diapers, whereas this year, they’re being forced to make decisions between curriculum and a stove [as they rebuild]. That’s been an eye opener for me to realize how much the need is still there.”

The reasons why so many families are still in trailers next to partially gutted homes are complicated, but insurance is a major factor. Many of the flooded homes were not located in flood zones, where having flood insurance is mandatory. Regular homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, leaving these families to rely on whatever other financial means they may have while living in the ubiquitous FEMA trailer.

Pique's son's kitchen

Cutrone, whose neighborhood experienced flooding, said she’s seen several homes near her leveled in the last few weeks. “People are losing their homes completely because they cannot be restored.”

Pique’s said that her son, a cabinetmaker, remains in his FEMA trailer as he’s working hard rebuilding other people’s kitchens. She’s hoping he’ll be able to finish up his own home soon, though. “He’s close,” Pique said.

An Overflow of Love

The Ambassadors’ experiences from the past year have had a profound impact on them.

Cutrone has a vivid memory of the day of her area’s annual homeschool kickoff because it was the same day the flood hit. She sprang into action, organizing the Baton Rouge curricula giveaways.

Family plays with puzzle at Baton Rouge giveaway

“I feel like we did really well with the book giveaway [last year] and got into the hands of a lot of families the tools they needed to complete their school year,” Cutrone said. With compassion in her voice, she also noted the families who are not yet back in their homes, “and here we are approaching another school year.” She hopes to give away curricula to families who need it at this year’s kick-off event.

“It took all of us,” said Roger Smith of the ambassador team. “Missy is the multi-talented one among us. Jan and I connected people, and Nicole directed the ground troops.”

“The overflow of love from all across the country coming in—people sending whatever and all that they had to help,” Cutrone shared, her voice choked with emotion. “That was a huge blessing. To be a part of that was amazing. We received lots of encouraging notes that we hung up on memo boards so that families that came [to the book giveaways] could read and see the love being poured out for them, the prayers that had been prayed.”

Click here to read how HSF helped a family with four small children after their homeschool room flooded.

HSF and the Louisiana Ambassadors will continue to come alongside these families. If you would like to assist families in your own community, become an ambassador with us! Learn more at homeschoolfoundation.org/volunteer.

You can also help homeschooling families in Louisiana who are still rebuilding with a donation to the Louisiana Ambassador fund.

Helping families homeschool through hard times

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