NSU team volunteers with hurricane clean up in Beaumont


NATCHITOCHES – A 27-member team of students and volunteers from Northwestern State University spent a weekend in Beaumont, Texas, earlier this month hauling water-logged mattresses and flood-soaked furniture out to streets piled with household debris to assist in relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey earlier this month.

“Our purpose was to serve the affected people of Texas,” said Dr. Curt Phifer, a professor of biology, who coordinated the trip through Operation Blessing (ob.org), an international humanitarian organization.

After seeing the devastation, especially the severe flooding, caused by Hurricane Harvey Phifer put out a plea for Northwestern State students, faculty and staff to go to Texas to help people affected by the storm.  The group had planned to go Labor Day weekend, but flooding was still so bad that they could not get into areas that were hit and most relief agencies were not ready for volunteers.

Operation Blessing had already identified homes that needed work, based largely on need with the elderly, disabled and uninsured priority, Phifer said.

“The NSU team divided into three work crews and worked in three different homes, all with elderly or disabled residents,” he explained.  “They cleared out furniture and other belongings, saving photos and other personal mementos when they could.  Then the crews stripped flood-soaked drywall, insulation and flooring from the houses.  The work was hard and dirty.  The floods had brought contaminated water into the homes, soaking everything, and electricity had been cut off so refrigerators were filled with rotten food.  But the homeowners’ appreciation, and their tears, made all the work worthwhile.  Every NSU team member was blessed.”

“The volunteer experience in Beaumont was surreal from the very beginning,” said Mary Peltier of Rayne, a student volunteer, who said Operation Blessing told the group they could help people not only by helping with the demolition of the interior of their homes but also through emotional support.

“Many residents of Beaumont lost all of their belongings in the tragedy, so they were very distressed. Upon entering the neighborhood that we were going to be working in for most of the day, we saw the surreal sight of streets lined a few feet high with the personal belongings of the residents of the neighborhood,” Peltier said.

“The family that my team helped was under distress from not only the natural disaster, but also from illness of members of the family. They were lovely people and appreciated our help immensely. They instructed us to take everything out of the house, whether it was high enough to escape damage, or not. The day consisted mostly of hauling their personal belongings, sometimes very heavy or foul-smelling from the flood waters, out onto the side of the road. In the afternoon we took a short break when a neighbor gave our entire team plate lunches that they were handing out to anyone that would like a plate.”

The team was not able to gut the entire house in one day’s work, but returned to continue working the next day.

“This experience allowed me to not only lend a helping hand to people in need, but also to receive love and appreciation from a family in need,” Peltier said.

Phifer previously worked with Operation Blessing during flood relief efforts in south Louisiana in 2016.

Phifer thanks all who donated money to help pay expenses for the trip.  In addition to Phifer and Peltier, participants on the trip were students Ian Belsha, Glendalyn Boothe, Tiffany Calhoun, Kayce Dodd, Haleigh Gates, Brianna Harper Howard, Corderius Jones, Jaci Jones, Maia LaComb, Melissa Lanier, Anthony Lucas, Jessica Lykins, Joy Newman, Devin McCrory, Mary Peltier, Daniel Rocho, Kelsey Royer, Charity Wesley, Sugey Dyer-Ruiz, Alisia Sylestine, Kristen Ware, Dara Woods, Tao Xie, China Young along with Rosa Zacarias and Alejandro Zacarias, instructor of engineering technology.

“The NSU Student Government Association approved an emergency grant to pay for the team’s transportation, food and materials and NSU President Dr. Chris Maggio agreed to make up any other expenses.  Fortunately, Operation Blessing provided housing and some food for the team,” Phifer said.

The work in Beaumont is far from finished and Phifer emphasized that there is plenty of work for any volunteer groups, Greek organizations or students groups willing to help. Phifer can help groups or individuals organize and find out where they can do the most good.  He also encouraged monetary support for the relief groups.

Phifer can be reached at phifer@nsula.edu or by calling (318) 357-4588.