Sunday, March 04, 2018

KIRF Field Report: Thomas fire in Ventura County, California 2017

As the flames lit up the night sky on December 4th, we watched with horror as a massive wall of red flames burned up over the ridgeline above our town to the east and quickly consumed one home after another in rectangular bursts of fire across on our darkened hillsides, blown by unseasonably hot and dry Santa Ana winds. The aftermath of that night, and for days later as the fires continued to eat up acres of land across two counties, was a calamity that touched all of our lives. Everyone knew someone who had lost his or her home. By the time the fire was completely extinguished a month later, over 281,000 acres had burned making it the largest fire in California’s recorded history. Two people lost their lives. Thousands of people lost their homes. Over 1,000 structures were destroyed in Ventura County alone.
KIRF has been able to help 58 of these families (over 145 people), most with children and renters, get through the experience of losing their homes and belongings in the Thomas fire.  Most of the people we helped did not have fire insurance or were underinsured. When we met them, they still seemed in shock. Most owned only the clothes that they were wearing and what they could carry when they were evacuated. They lived in various areas of Ventura County: Ventura, Ojai, and unincorporated areas such as Wheeler Canyon, Adams Canyon, and Upper Ojai.
Each of the families we helped are special to us. They include some of our community’s kindergarten and high school teachers, farm workers, writers, artists, photographers, and musicians, as well as college students and service workers, horse trainers, daycare providers and in-home caregivers. We helped several small business owners with employees to support. The people we helped also included a home architect, a large equipment operator (who helped clean up debris after the flooding in Montecito), a lawyer, and a biologist as well as the people who make us feel and look better: a hair dresser, athletic trainer, and two yoga instructors.  Some of them help keep us safe for a living such as the EMT and police officer we helped.
A hundred percent of every donation went to directly to help each of these families in the form of a gift card or supplies that they requested. Since our funds were limited (several times we ran out of money in the first few weeks), people who were renting and/or did not have sufficient insurance were sought out.  Parents of school-age children and retired senior citizens were prioritized, too. Each person KIRF helped was referred to us from friends, family members, acquaintances, neighbors, and other Thomas fire disaster survivors. Over 50% of the Thomas fire survivors who we helped ended up referring us to other people who they knew personally and who had also lost their homes. Several people told us that by helping other victims of the Thomas fire, it helped them, too. They included the following amazingly caring people: John, Veronica, Phillipa, Margaret, Julie, Katie, Michael, and Dan.
KIRF’s aid for this disaster has mostly been in the form of $500 gift cards to Target or Walmart. Most of the people we helped did not yet have a permanent place to live and store donated items. We, in turn, referred aid recipients to other aid groups and humanitarians in an informal aid network during the disaster. Local organizations who gave aid to Thomas fire disaster relief recipients through our referrals included Our Lady of Assumption Church, Mission Church Ventura, and Downtown Lions Club. A few local businesses gave merchandise to KIRF aid recipients such as Mile 26, Barrel 101, and Betty Belts to name just a few.
However, Mark and I could not have of done this emergency disaster relief without the hours of volunteer efforts by an informal aid network of  volunteers here in Ventura. They spent hours meeting Thomas fire survivors with us and helped us purchase and deliver donated items to many of them. Thank you again for your help Steve, Greg and Sarah, Courtney, Ed, Mike, Miguel, Richard, Erin, Brian, Josh and Jen, Nile, and Kai. We also want to thank our newest KIRF volunteers who took hours of their time to locate, interview, and introduce us to Thomas fire survivors who lost their homes. They include Adrienne, Karen, Barbara, Ken, Linda, and Jeannie. I want to thank two people who connected two of the musicians we helped with new instruments: Suz and Janet. Finally, thank you Cathy for introducing us to Fr. Leon of Our Lady of Assumption Church who gave emergency funds to many of the renters we helped before FEMA and other aid funds became available.  
Below are some of the public social media postings (minus the photos for now--ARK) that helped us raise more funds during the disaster period. The first post was a few days after the Thomas fire started on Dec. 4, 2017. Most of them were shared as public posts on KIRF’s Facebook Page ( Each post was made with permission from each KIRF Thomas fire aid recipient.

DEC. 9 2017
We gave another gift card today to a widowed mom with two daughters, 1 yr & 4 yrs. She is trying to stay positive. The photo below is what is left of her house in Wheeler Canyon (between E. Ventura & Santa Paula, north of Hwy 126).…

DEC. 10, 2017
We just got back from giving out two Walmart gift cards for $500 each for two people this morning: Kendra and Alton. They both said I can use their names and photos. We met them with our new friend Dan who lost his home and business equipment in the Thomas Fire. Kendra is a recent college grad who works in a HR dept at a company in Carpinteria. She asked not to share the photo of her burned rental house since it belongs to a well-known local doctor and his wife. But below is a photo of Kendra and I. She is so grateful...!
The other gift card we gave to [is] a wonderful man named Alton who is a retired photographer and remembers Hurricane Camille in 1969 in MS! He’s married to a Cajun lady who grew up hunting and fishing in LA. Loved this guy. Below is a photo of him at his house right after the fire. He is so grateful for the gift card. I a week or so the disaster services and free donated items will be gone but his family will still need things.
Dan (guy we helped on Sat with a gift card), Alton & Kendra have family who are members of Temple Beth Torah. From them we found out that the local evangelical Mission Church Ventura, Catholic Assumption and Temple Beth Torah here in Ventura are helping each other out with sharing donated water and helping each other’s members. Dan, an recent MBA grad who started a business recently & lost all his business equipment in the fire, told me that one of our friends referred him to Assumption. He showed up yesterday ready for the Father to say religious words to him (he’s Jewish). But the priest just handed him a check and said he hopes Dan is doing all right. He was there for less than five minutes... And you can better believe he’s a fan of that local religious community now. But, of course, there are politicians who won’t ever repeat that reality of the people in different faith communities all working together with love ...! But now you and our other donors know.   Love wins

DEC. 11, 2017
Thank you KIRF donors so much! We gave another gift card tonight to Erik & Sarah who lost their rented house, no insurance. Erik is an artist who [recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz] and also works for a local organic farm and lost his art and art supplies. Sarah lost everything, too. Thank you for helping this young couple out. 

DEC. 12, 2017
Thank you KIRF donors! We gave a $500 gift card to a sweet lady named Joannie who is a retired first grade teacher and world traveler. She lost her apartment, one out of 53 units, in Hawaiian Gardens [Hawaiian Village Apartments] Monday night (Dec. 4). Steve Doll referred her to us. She is really grateful.

DEC. 13, 2017
Hannah, a graduate student in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica, and her daughter Lily escaped the Thomas Fire in Ojai but their rented home did not. They are couching it at a relative’s house now. We were able to help them with a $500 WalMart gift card to replace some things they lost in the fire…
DEC. 15, 2017
This wonderful human standing in between Mark and I was referred to us by his neighbor Katie who lived on the same property above Foothill in Ventura. He tried hard to save both of their rented houses by staying behind and hosing them down and putting out embers during the fiery windstorm late Monday night. He thought he did, left briefly, and came back to both homes burned to the ground. Lost everything. We used the last $500 in donations we had yesterday to get him a gift card. It’s not much but at least he would be able to replace some things after he finds a new home for himself and his two children… PS: The wonderful human/brave dad’s name is Michael.

DEC. 15, 2017
Mark talked to Robby today about his experiences in the Thomas Fire. He and his girlfriend Lexi narrowly escaped the fire as it descended into the Hawaiian gardens [Hawaiian Village Apartments] and the apartment they were renting there. They were running from flames 30 feet high. Lexi ran through the falling embers in her bare feet…
DEC. 15, 2017
Thank you KIRF donors. Today your donation helped a Thomas Fire refugee and hero named Tanner. He is a paramedic who was off duty and sound asleep when he got a panicked call from an elder care client who told him that he and his wife’s trailer home was was surrounded by fire. He saved the elderly couple and their model home in a park in upper Ojai. Unfortunately, he lost his own home right next door. He was referred to us by fellow Thomas Fire refugee Michael. Below is a photo of Tanner with Mark and a picture of his Jeep on the night of the fire.

DEC. 16, 2017
Hannah and Landon lost their home in the [Harbor View] apartments that burned above Hawaiian Gardens [Hawaiian Village Apartments]. Nothing left. Thank you KIRF donors for helping this nice young couple. 100% of each donation is going by to purchase gift cards or requested home supplies for Thomas fire refugees.

DEC. 19, 2017
At my right shoulder (left side of this photo) is an angel named Phillipa. After the Thomas fire unexpectedly burned down her house in the hillsides of Ventura she asked for help for her preschool students’ families who she knew had lost their homes in the massive brush fire. I met Phillipa through my friend Adrienne at the Ventura Land Trust. I’ve known Adrienne for a while now and if she says someone needs help, I believe her.
Which leads me to mention the other sweet lady on my left: Amber. She’s a busy speech therapist and mother of two energetic little boys who loved to race around their mom’s car in the parking lot when I met them today. She and her husband Nate’s rented home near two trees (now one tree? No tree?) burned down. The fire destroyed everything they owned except their clothes, cell phones, and IDs that they evacuated with. They did not have renter’s insurance…
DEC. 19, 2017
Thank you KIRF donors for making a difference for this lovely and entertaining couple: David and Veronica. Referred to us by Steve, their apartment on the first floor of Hawaiian Gardens burned up was crushed into the ground by the other two stories above it. They were on a travel righting assignment in Cuba and only had with them their passports, warm weather clothing, bike shorts, and a few other things. Veronica lost her grandmother’s heirloom jewelry. David lost two back up drives of digital images of photos he’s taken for the past twenty years of assignments and of his children, etc. The fire was a devastating loss for them both.
Unfortunately, all we could do is provide some words of care and a gift card. We referred them to a local religious community who helped them some more. They found an apartment but will need to fill it…

DEC. 21, 2017
It was another emotional night last night meeting these two incredible kind and resilient people: Linda and John. Their apartment in Hawaiian Village, decorated with a lifetime of memories, burned to the ground during the Thomas Fire. Linda seems to be coping well by staying incredibly busy with her work at Granite Construction Since the Thomas fire destroyed about 150 homes in Ventura, I expect she’s going to get even busier. John is retired and I expect dealing with all the paperwork involved in recovering from a disaster—dealing with utilities, insurance, and fema plus medical bills— [that] will keep him busy, too for a while.
I wish we could do more for them. We gave them a $500 Target gift card for some essentials…

DEC. 21, 2017
We visited the Wheeler Canyon Trailer Park, a property owned by Limoneira Company, on Wednesday night (12/20/17). Ten families lost everything they owned when their trailers caught fire and burned into the heaps of charred steal and ashes in the fiery inferno that swept through the canyon carried by the Santa Ana winds on December 4th. Here's a short description of one of those families. [edit added 12/23/17 - ARK]…
It was about dinnertime when we met them at a neighbor's trailer. Ernesto told us in Spanish that their trailer that burned was a new one and they had nice furniture in it and his fish tank. He had raised tropical fish in it for seven years. Gesturing with his hands, he showed us that when he started, his fish were tiny and grew big. He had to get a bigger tank. Now it's all gone. It made me sadder still to hear that the dignified grandfather still has to get up at 4:30am every morning to work in the fields and gets home around 5pm. His wife’s schedule isn’t much easier: she gets up at 6 and gets home around 7pm. They lost nearly all their material possessions but at least, they told us, they still have their jobs and worked earlier that day. Broke but not even close to broken, they were so kind and invited us in and would of fed us dinner, too if we could of stayed.
KIRF donors paid for a Target gift card for this farm worker family. I know that many volunteers from several organizations are working hard to help their hard working community…
DEC. 23, 2017
Today we accepted an invitation to the Christmas party for the farm workers at Limoneira Company. After quietly giving each family who lost their home in the Thomas fire a Target gift card, I learned their story through the Spanish interpreting done by a lovely lady with a beautiful name: Elodia. …Limoneira Company quickly found new housing for them in some vacant trailers in the park.
Unfortunately, for Maria and her family, the fires destroyed her passport and H2A guest worker papers. Her daughter and granddaughter were born here. Even today, two weeks after her home burned down, she seemed scared about what was going to happen next. I don’t blame her frankly. There were counselors from Ventura county behavioral health, LULAC, Red Cross here today to help her and the other families here though. The outpouring of care for these families who work hard, before dawn to dusk, [picking and packing] the produce that we eat is tremendous and reassuring…
DEC. 31, 2017
Today we gave disaster recovery aid in the form of a $500 Target gift card to a young couple, Mikayla & Jake, whose apt in the Harbor View Apts was destroyed by the Thomas fire. The gift card won’t replace the special things but it will at least help them get back on their feet with some essentials. Thank you KIRF donors so much for making a real difference to a young family who lost everything. Thank you for being there for them during what may have been their worst holiday season ever. 

JAN. 7, 2018
We were able to help four more former residents of Hawaiian Village apartments yesterday. This was due in part to the generosity of a local farming family with a long history in Ventura County. Each person we helped told us a harrowing story of escaping the fire through smoke and burning embers blowing over them, just ahead of the flames that lit up our hillsides a fiery red and orange.
Each person we helped is connected to a family member or a close friend who also lost their home that night. Left to right are photos of Mark and I with some of them: Angela and her 14 yr old son Walter (they are still living in a hotel), Ryan who lost everything in the fire that he owned since he was busy helping the other residents escape, Patricia who is also living in a hotel with her roommate, and Alex who lost everything except her snowboard and Patagonia gear, a gym bag stuffed with undergarments, and one Ugg boot. None of them had insurance.
We referred them to other disaster services in town and retailers we know who are still donating new clothes and other items to people who lost their homes in the Thomas fire. Each one of them thanked us and our donors.
Each person is dealing with their loss differently: stoicism, keeping extremely busy, feeling numb or waves of grief at different times.
Each person told us how incredibly generous some people who they hardly knew have been to them with free things, a place to live, and cash. They also told us about support of Red Cross, United Way, Our Lady of Assumption, Mission Church Ventura, etc…
JAN. 8, 2018
I thought that the Thomas fire donations would stop coming in after New Years but I was wrong. Sometimes it’s great to be wrong. Yesterday we were able to give a care package of gift cards and cash to the best yoga teacher … Maura.
She used to teach the Wednesday noon yoga class at Patagonia. I was told that she taught this class upstairs in the firehouse building for 25 years. I was also told that she was an amazing yoga teacher. The few times I took her yoga class I became instantly relaxed by her soft-voice as she moved us through the asanas [yoga poses coordinated with breathing] that gently lengthened and soothed our sore muscles in time with our breaths. Her yoga classes were the only time I could truly relax at work …

JAN. 12, 2018 
Thank you again KIRF donors! Because of your generosity we were able to help out a dear former co-worker of mine from my years at Patagonia long ago. Margaret and her husband lost their rented home and one of their cats to the Thomas fire in Adams Canyon, which is just past Wheeler Canyon near where the fire started. She sent me before and after photos of their home. They had only about ten minutes to evacuate so they grabbed a few things and their pets, three dogs and the two of their three cats that they could find.
A photo below is all she has left of her jewelry from the fire other than what she was wearing at the time. I looked up the melting temperature of silver on Google. It is 1,763 degrees Fahrenheit. Everything else inside their home was reduced to charred metal and ashes.
Since they lived on county land near Ojai but not in it, they have been denied aid by [some] organizations there. The most aid they got, other than some renters insurance and help from their adult children, was from Mission Church Ventura (no questions asked, just love and aid), Red Cross, and us.

JAN. 24, 2018
Ever meet a couple who are so genuine, so real, and yet so full of positivity and light that you just want them to succeed? I met a couple like that today named Sarah and Eddie. I only spoke with Eddie on the phone but he coordinated a meeting with his wife Sarah. 

We were referred to them by my friend Margaret who also lost her home in the massive Thomas fire. I met Sarah tonight after work at Whole Foods near where I teach at College of the Canyons. Sarah and her musician/entrepreneur husband Eddie lost almost everything they owned and Eddie’s work equipment when the Thomas fire burned their rented home to the ground in Upper Ojai. Since they live about a minute from Saint Thomas Aquinas College, near where the fire started and it’s namesake, they had about 15 minutes to get their four children, two cats, and their things in their trucks. They had to use the lights on their cell phones to see after the electricity went out. 

They have three little boys who are 9 months, 2 years and 3 years, and one big 11 year old boy who goes to San Antonio Elementary. Their big boy just wants to go back to his old school and is having a rough time his mom told me. He’s in six grade and they hope that they can find a place in or near Ojai so he can finish out the year there. They are currently staying in a spare room at relative’s house in Valencia. Eddie lost his acoustic and bass guitars and his work equipment. They both lost years of their children’s artwork and everything you can think of in a typical house. Sarah worked and got academic-scholarships to pay her way through UCLA and now teaches kindergarten and preschool. Family and friends, have helped them with clothing and bedding etc. [We gave them two Target gift cards worth $1,000.] Now they just [need] a place to stay until this summer at least....

FEB 8, 2018
Thank you KIRF donors! Tonight you made it possible for us to give a $1,000 [worth of] Target gift card to a family who lost their rented home during the Thomas fire here in Ventura and everything in it. It was a devastating loss compounded by the fact that [Guto and Fernanda and their two sons had] just moved to Ventura, far away from the support of family and friends back in their native country of Brazil. They were renting a small back-house on a property along Foothill Ave. with no fire insurance. We met them through our friend Stephen Doll and our new friend Leslie [Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett’s wife] who is hosting them at her and her husband’s home until they can find their own place…Guto was a famous professional motocross athlete in his native Brazil. He and his wife moved to Ventura less than two years ago and started a business. Already their boys are doing great in school speaking fluent English, play on their school’s soccer team, and the older brother plays the tuba. Thank you again for helping this beautiful family during a very hard time for them.

As of now, three months after the Thomas fire started, many of the people who we  helped are still trying hard to recover. Ventura County is an expensive place to live. Parents are still helping their children deal with the emotional shock of losing their home and having to move away from their friends and their old school—all the while they themselves are trying to keep things together. People without small children are trying to recover from losing things like their mother’s jewelry, their laptops and backup drives, road bikes and surfboards, their cats, furniture, family recipes, a sense of stability.  

The Thomas fire disaster destroyed too much. But survivors will never forget that there were people in this community who stepped up to help them after they lost their homes. The disaster created many unsung heroes and a community of people who have been brought closer together. We have heard several stories of neighbors who risked their lives during the fire to save the lives of their neighbors before first responders arrived and, in the meantime, lost their own homes and belongings. We have heard stories of neighbors putting out spot fires with shovels of dirt and keeping the roofs of their neighbor’s roofs wet after they evacuated during the hot windstorm that blew burning embers hundreds of yards ahead of the flames, igniting trees and brush. We heard stories about people saving their neighbors’ horses and livestock, while their own homes burned to the ground. We have also heard stories about people who, after the fire, tracked down their neighbors who had lost their homes so they could help them. Some of them shared their own homes with victims until they could find an affordable place to live. I have heard of at least two musicians who donated their guitars to musicians who they didn’t know but found out about through mutual friends. We heard stories of women giving their Thomas fire survivor friends some of their jewelry since they had lost theirs in the fire. We even heard a story about a friend who took off her sneakers and gave them to a friend who lost her home. She had rushed out of her house so fast that she forgot to pack her shoes.

These Thomas fire survivors will never forget the many heroes in our community. These are average people who took action to help. We certainly will not. After over 10 years of doing disaster relief in different communities all over the world, it’s a humbling experience to have our own community—our own friends, neighbors and loved ones--suffer a terrible catastrophe and lose their homes. To those who helped out, you have made our whole community better and stronger. Thank you!

Angela R. Kirwin, M.A.
Vice President

Saturday, December 30, 2017

KIRF Field Report: Hurricane Harvey Relief in Houston, Texas 2017

It’s always hard to make a choice of who to help when disaster strikes.  While driving to work one day, I heard interviews on NPR of survivors who had experienced the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.  The pain in those voices and the dire circumstances of the victims helped us decide to do a relief trip to Houston.  Yet, as we were planning the trip, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico causing many deaths, knocking out the island’s electrical grid, and destroying thousands of homes.  After Maria, one person asked me where we were going. I replied that were going to help the folks in Houston. Why?  Because KIRF had made a representation and commitment to people in Houston that we were coming to help.

“HUD is now collecting rent in September….” “The flood waters were 14’ deep destroying our home.” “ I slept in an attic with an axe before I was rescued.” “An elderly woman stayed in her flooded house for five days before her daughter could rescue her.” “A barista who lost his job due to the floods and has been living in an overcrowded hotel, with loud noises and dogs barking all night, only getting two hours of sleep each night.” These were parts of the stories I heard as we assessed the damage and needs the first day in Houston.

While we were assessing damage and interviewing people in the Clear Creek and Frendwick districts of South Houston, we met the Noe, the pantry manager at the Interfaith Caring Ministries in League City.  He told us that they had plenty of donated food but still needed cleaning supplies.

We next met Jeanne, the Coordinator for the Prevention and At Risk Services for the Clear Creek Independent School District. This school had converted one of their gyms into a temporary housing facility for the flood victims and the other gym was used as a  donation center for clothes and cleaning supplies.  Jeanne told us that about a 100 students and teachers in their elementary school classes had lost their homes. What some of these people needed the most was Walmart gift cards because they did not yet have a place to live and store stuff. They were still living in temporary housing or in hotel rooms six weeks after the hurricane's flooding ruined their homes.

Later in the day we interviewed people at University Baptist Church. Chis told us that the church volunteers had “mucked out” (ripped out all the moldy drywall) 175 homes. Also, that they had just received a semi-truck loaded with drywall.  They had enough support to purchase screws, tape and drywall mud to re-drywall the homes.  However, he knew of families who were food insecure. He put us in touch with a parishioner, Sujata, who had been feeding these families out of her own pocket in the badly flooded area of Bayridge. She emailed us wish lists created by these families who had been hit hard by the hurricane. They needed nutritious food items, cleaning supplies, toiletries, feminine supplies, and baby products.

So, wish lists in hand, we took our trusty Penske rental truck to Home Depot, Walmart, and finally Costco and purchased items based on the wish lists and our own assessment interviews.  We also purchased Walmart gift cards for the students and teachers of the elementary school who were still living in temporary housing.  Once the truck was completely filled with supplies we drove to the University Baptist Church. After we finally unloaded the truck, we had a late dinner and a beer at 1:30am early Saturday morning. 

We started again later that same morning at 9:00am by meeting more volunteers from the Space Center Rotary at the University Baptist Church. We unloaded the truck and with the wise advice of Fausto, the Church facilities director, using a large meeting room in the Church to stage filling our "relief bags" with the above items on the wish lists. Each relief bag consisted of a construction grade large 50 gallon plastic sack, packed full.  We were helped by patrons from this church and other churches to stuff the bags.  Then we loaded the truck and drove to a neighborhood in Bayridge and began a long day of knocking on doors and handing out our large relief bags of supplies.  We helped about 60 families in this community.

During our delivery of aid to a flooded neighborhood, a volunteer with us knocked on a door to ask if the occupants needed food or supplies.  An elderly woman answered the door leaning on a cane.  The smell of mold was overwhelming as she opened the door.  We asked if she needed help. She invited us in to look around.  A pile of her personal belongings was in the center of her living room. Drywall was cut off of the walls from the floor to 3’ high and the studs were black with mold.  She was 92.  We asked her why she was still in the house because it smelled so bad. She said she was waiting for FEMA to assess the value of her destroyed goods.  Hurricane Harvey had struck six weeks ago.

After Bayridge we drove to Dickenson.  It was devastated. The streets reeked of mold and rot and were devoid of people or cars.  Not one person seemed to be at home. We drove around for about an hour and finally saw a small church that was accepting donations.  The Lighthouse Baptist Church’s hours of disaster relief assistance for the community had been cut back because of a lack of donations. So, when we showed up, the man in charge, Rick, was very happy to see us.  We unloaded approximately 60 more relief bags for distribution in Dickenson and Rock Port- two very badly damaged areas.

In total, we provide aid to approximately 200 families who were displaced or still living in badly flood damaged homes in Houston, Texas. We could not have performed our 48 hours of disaster relief, September 15-17, 2017, in Houston without the dedicated, hard working, and always-ready-for-good-laugh Rotary volunteers Greg and Courtney.  Greg was our fearless flatbed truck driver and Courtney kept us laughing after 20 hours straight of non-stop relief work.  Our success would not have been possible without the generous support of KIRF’s generous donors, the Rotary Club of (Downtown) Ventura, and Lion’s Club of Ventura, and the tireless work and incredible hospitality of members of the Rotary Club of Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Monday, October 17, 2016

KIRF Field Report: Flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana 2016

Ruined trailer park flooded near the Comite River, Louisiana.
Photo: Mark Kirwin
Louisiana Relief 2016
As we were driving down roads stacked high on each side with ripped out drywall, furniture and moldy house hold goods, an elderly gentleman told us that the flood waters covered more area than the state of Delaware.

It is hard to believe the magnitude of the flood that hit Baton Rouge Louisiana in August of 2016.  It has been estimated that the damage caused by the flood was the worst in US History since Hurricane Sandy. We saw the results of what overflowing rivers and record rainfall did to  the communities of the parishes such as Denham Springs along the Comite River. 

The locals told fellow Rotarian and KIRF volunteer Steve Doll and I that if it were not for the “Cajun Navy” many more people would have lost their lives during the flood.  The Cajun Navy was a group of local fisherman who used their boats to rescue people from rooftops during the worst of the downpour and flooding that put much of the town under water and ruined thousands of homes and businesses. It was news of the Cajun Navy that originally inspired me to plan this KIRF relief trip in partnership with the Ventura Downtown Rotary, Ventura Rotary East, and Ventura’s Downtown Lions Club.  The financial partnership of these organizations made this relief trip a huge success.

Working out which families need help and the
quantity of cleaning supplies, house hold living supplies
and food to purchase at The Arc. Photo: Steve Doll
We were fortunate to be able to accomplish a large part of the need assessment with the tireless help of a team of local volunteers: fellow Rotarian Mike H. from Baton Rouge Sunrise Rotary, Charlene M. from the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Samuel S. from the Mid-City Development Alliance, Lisa H. from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and Charles D. from the Church of Immaculate Conception.  Once we were on the ground in Baton Rouge, Steve and I could not have accomplished so much so quickly without the amazing stamina and guidance of Laura D. from the Sunrise Rotary and Charles D. Father Thomas Clark was of great assistance in locating elderly people who needed assistance; as well as Barry Meyer, from The Arc of Baton Rouge. He organized his team to help us shop for and deliver requested supplies.  Thank you also to Sam, Angie and Laura for putting us up in their houses during our time in Baton Rouge.

We were on the ground for three days.  Our first day started with a Rotary meeting at Sunrise Rotary (friendly bunch if you ever get the chance to have breakfast with them!).  Then we were off driving the communities around North Baton Rouge with Charles to observe the damage and discuss the present needs of the people affected by the flood.
Still cleaning up house debris.
Photo: Mark Kirwin

Later that day we met with Barry at The Arc and went over lists of what The Arc’s clients and employees with flood damaged homes needed. Basically, many lost everything but the clothes on their backs.

After a long day of needs assessment, we found out what was needed. So day two was spent in Walmart and Cosco purchasing the requested products.  A special thanks to Walmart manager Fred and his awesome staff for helping us purchase need items for 96 Arc clients and employees. We purchased cooking and eating supplies, plates, towels, sheets, cleaning and bathroom supplies, and gift cards so folks could purchase clothing.

 We were able to purchase 6,000 cans of nutritious tuna and chicken breast meat for the Food Bank.  The Food Bank lost all of its food and most vehicles as a result of the flood waters.
Steve lining up the shopping carts with supplies requested by
families who lost their homes. Photo: Mark Kirwin


We worked most of the day with volunteers loading up cans of chicken from Costco. Tuna was purchased at discount through the kindness of Associated Grocers.  

The Food Bank is supplying much needed food for those stricken by the flood.  We purchased a pallet of cases of food for families with children and elderly people who lost their homes and are food insecure. 

Our work ended the following day when Father Clark and his congregation delivered supplies to 30 elderly couples whose homes and contents were badly damaged by the flood waters.")

Thank you to all who helped with this relief trip to Baton Rouge!

Mark Kirwin, Esq.
President and Co-Founder KIRF