By Hannah Lester
Hurricane Ida ripped through communities, homes and people’s lives, leaving devastation in the wake. But — there are those who want to help.
The Opelika Rotary Club is preparing to spend the upcoming weekend providing relief effort in Louisiana, through both man power and monetary donations.
Jericho Wilson said that relief efforts are not new for the club. In 2019, the rotary and local district was able to raise enough money to fund a house through MEND for victims of the 2019 Beauregard tornados.
Wilson serves as the district chair for the Rotary District 6880, Disaster Relief Committee, which was formed following the tornados.
“We are actually going to go down [to Louisiana] and partner up with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Department,” Wilson said. “That whole parish was just demolished and their resources are so strained, they can’t even get the roads open for citizens to get out and if there was anywhere to go, they can’t go anywhere. No power, no water, no nothing.
… We’re going to go down and our first operation is going to be to link up with the sheriff’s department and clear out St. Charles Parish and try to get the roads open.”
Club members and volunteers will leave Opelika Thursday, head to Fairhope and from there, Louisiana.
Wilson said that if, over the weekend, they are able to open the roads up, the next task will be to move onto another parish, or continue helping in St. Charles, however may be necessary — such as removing trees from homes.
“We just ask for volunteers to come out and work with us, and rotary’s been generous enough to donate the funds to get two trailers, fully equip them with everything that we need, so now we’re just raising money to buy more equipment, help out more people,” Wilson said.
The area the group is traveling to does not have a disaster relief team, Wilson said, so they will help train roughly 100 volunteers waiting to help.
Wilson said that some of the needs include tarps and camp stoves, for boiling water.
“Since you don’t have power, you can’t turn on your stove, you can’t boil water, you can’t do anything and they’re all under a water boil advisory,” he said.
Anyone who chooses to come and volunteer will find that this is all-expense paid.
“Rotarians are going to house us as their own homes in Slidell which I guess still has power and is still in good shape,” Wilson said.
Food and equipment is also covered.
“We’ll leave Fairhope, get to Slidell … then head over to St. Charles Parish Friday afternoon, my goal is to be boots on the ground ready to operate by 1 o’clock. We’ll just work until we can’t work any more Friday. Then we’ll work all day Saturday, all day Sunday. And we may or may not make the first half of Monday a work day.”
Wilson said that they are willing to accept as many volunteers as may want to help.
“The more the merrier,” he said. “… The one thing a lot of people think about is, ‘Oh, I’m not in good enough health to run a chain saw. I can’t move a log. I’m not going to go.’ Well, there’s limbs to be picked up, or there’s meals to prepare or water to distribute. There’s definitely lot’s of work that needs to be done.”
Wilson said that anyone interested in volunteering can reach out through the rotary website (opelikarotaryclub.com) or attend a meeting (Tuesdays at 12 p.m. at Saugahatchee or Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. Resting Pulse).
Donations can also be made online (foundation.rotary6880.org).
“Thank you to Dozier Smith T as Smith T hardware for great deals on tarps, propane tanks, gloves and more,” Wilson said. “I also wanted to thank the folks at University Ace for such a great deal on three brand new Stihl chainsaws. All these items were purchased via donations to Rotary, so ‘thank you’ to everyone that donated as well.”
The group is still in need of donations, though.
“The cool thing about donating to rotary and not just disaster relief, but rotary as a whole, is you think about an organization like the Red Cross where you’ve got a CEO collecting a fat salary, you’ve got other paid employees, so if you give them a $1, maybe 60, 70 cents is going to the community but with rotary, we have no overhead,” Wilson said. “We pay all of our own expenses out of our own personal pockets. So every dollar you give us is going to go straight back into the community.”
Wilson encouraged people to think of this disaster the way they did the Beauregard tornadoes — and think of those who are still hurting.
“I live my life by the golden rule, you know, treat other people the way you want to be treated and I know good and well that if I had a storm land on top of me, I would love to have somebody offer me a hand,” he said. “I may or may not take it but I would at least want somebody to come by and offer that and that’s why I like to pay it forward.
“… Freedom isn’t free. You have to serve your country in order for your country to serve you.”