Christmas celebration in LaPlace with the flood victims of Hurricane Issac.
My wife Lynda and I have had many blessings in life. One of the special blessings has been the ability to support worthy charities through the charitable foundation that we manage, the Meisner Crown Trust. Through this activity we have met many fine individuals who are among the everyday heroes serving the community in our state’s religious and charitable organizations. We were especially touched by the ministry of Pastor Neil Bernard of the New Wine Fellowship Church in Laplace, Louisiana. My first permanent job after graduating from Tulane was in LaPlace. Lynda and I bought a home in Belle Terre subdivision. We lived there for 5 years when our daughter Erin was a little girl. We have so many good memories of the time we spent in St. John Parish, so we were very concerned when Hurricane Issac struck a terrible blow to the Parish’s east bank.
On the night that Issac hit, the vast majority of Laplace’s residents were hunkered down in their home waiting for the category 1 storm to pass. Neither the Hurricane Center nor local officials anticipated that flooding was a serious possibility. This was no Katrina.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a big surprise for St. John residents. The Issac storm surge pushed into Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and into the homes of the residents of Cambridge, River Forrest, Riverlands, Belle Terre, and many other subdivisions. The victims numbered in the thousands. Sleeping residents woke up to the rising water, and many were forced to grab what they could, abandon their homes, and wade their way toward higher ground.
That’s when Pastor Bernard and many fellow members of the New Wine congregation went in into action. Small boats and flatbed trucks were dispatched to the flooded areas, where victims were gathered, and brought to the nearest place of safety, which happened to be the New Wine church on Airline Highway. New Wine’s large parking lot became the staging area for relief efforts that were eventually coordinated by FEMA and the National Guard, but on that awful morning, the folks on the front line were the sheriff’s deputies that were available, volunteer firemen, and members of the New Wine Fellowship. And so, when Lynda and I inquired into the needs of the community where we once lived, we were directed to Pastor Bernard. We wanted to do something for the children who were among the victims of the flooding at Christmas time. When we met with Pastor Bernard, he was organizing the annual Christmas event for the children, which has been assisted by the River Pilots Toys for Tots drive. Of course, the 2012 Christmas event was on a much larger scale than previous years, given the scale of the disaster that had occurred just 3 months earlier. We were able to contribute a number of toys to the group, receiving much more in return when we saw the happy faces of the hundreds of boys and girls, some who had lost everything in the unexpected flood. We especially enjoyed giving away the 20 bikes that we were able to bring to the event. For our family, it was an affirmation of the spirit of the season that we will always remember.
While recovery from Issac’s flooding is far from complete, great progress is being made, aided by volunteers from all parts of the country who have pitched in with the St John Parish residents to help them rebuild. Anyone who is tempted to despair while being bombarded by bad news on a daily basis should take time to witness the efforts of these volunteers, many of them young people, who flock to the scene of disasters on a regular basis. It is, thankfully, now becoming almost commonplace. While to the media, young people doing God’s work is not newsworthy, those who are fortunate enough to witness these acts of generosity come away with a sense of renewed hope. I suppose this is an example of how God tries to speak to our hearts, while most of us are too busy, or preoccupied, to listen. This, unfortunately, is something I comment on from personal experience.
And so Lynda, Erin and I thank you, Pastor Neil and Angela Bernard, the River Pilots, and the members of the New Wine Fellowship, for letting our family share with you this special part Christmas season.