Workers are pictured as they work on a roof of a Lake Charles hotel that was damaged by Hurricane Laura. Groups from Ville Platte and Evangeline Parish have been in the city since the hurricane to offer meals, supplies, and other assistance. Donations of supplies and monetary donations are still being accepted across the parish. (Gazette photos by Tony Marks)
Ville Platte native and McNeese State University alumnus Tim Fontenot (right) hands a plate of jambalaya to an Entergy worker from Jennings. Pictured in the back are Miquel Veillon (left) and Chris Veillon (right).
Of loaves and fish
LAKE CHARLES - One of the strongest hurricanes to ever make landfall struck the Southwest Louisiana area as a devastating Category 4. In its wake, Hurricane Laura left behind a path of snapped trees and utility poles as well as ripped off roofs and countless other structural damages to homes and businesses. The devastation is not only seen; it is smelled as the odor of sewage, rot, mold, and mildew is blown by the wind off of the lake.
For McNeese State University alumni Marty Soileau and Lucas Tate, both of Ville Platte, the destruction took a toll on the city they called home while in college.
“It’s disheartening and depressing,” Soileau said. “I wish the best for Lake Charles. They’ll come back.”
Tate, who has fond memories of being a college student in the city, said, “It might not ever be the same. It looks like a third world country. It looks like Haiti.”
Soileau added, “It looks like a war zone.”
Another Ville Platte resident, Nicole Fruge, expressed, “It looks devastated. It’s going to take a really long time to get it back, but it’ll come back.”
The three Ville Platte residents were part of a group that cooked for Laura victims and relief workers as well as giving out much needed supplies on Saturday, September 5. The days events were covered jointly by the Ville Platte Gazette and KVPI.
Chris Veillon, owner of Grand Slam Fence Company, was one of the main organizers of the group and cooked the pastalaya and jambalaya on site. For some, it was the first hot meal they had in a week since the hurricane.
“The people of Ville Platte are very generous,” he said. “I put the word out, and it got rolling. I had strangers even just come and give me cash. God’s good. The people of Ville Platte and Evangeline Parish are awesome. It takes a hurricane for people to come together, but good things come out of disasters.”
Among the donors were Teet’s, Champagne’s, Ryan Leday Williams, Evangeline Bank and Trust Company, Investar Bank, Cabot Corp, Bryan Vidrine, Dave and Karen Petitjean, Joe and Anita Ryan, Ted and Faye Lemoine, Bobby and Jackie Bertrand, Darrell Robertson, Carl and Donna Fontenot, Kyle and Karen Fontenot, “Cowboy” Phil Lemoine, Joanne Ward, Tiny and Mary Fontenot, Nick Bertrand, Annison Fontenot, and Susan Saunders.
“I just like to help people,” added Veillon. “I came here and played baseball here. It’s an awesome city. They need some help.”
Veillon teamed up with fellow McNeese alumnus Tim Fontenot to provide the meals and supplies. Fontenot said, “It’s like Hurricane Lili was for us times 10, but it gets a little better every day. The people are working hard. They’re putting their nose to the grindstone, and doing what needs to be done. God spared us from the hurricane so we could help other people.”
Fontenot touted other groups from Ville Platte and Evangeline Parish who were also in the Lake Charles area passing out supplies and lending a hand. These groups include the Ville Platte Fire Department, First Baptist Church of Ville Platte, and the Acosta Foundation.
“The Holy Spirit is going to give us the strength to keep going, and, when we can’t do anymore, He will do for us. And we’re going to Cowboy up and Cowgirl up, going to tighten our belts, dig a little deeper, and we’re going to get it done,” said Fontenot.
Fontenot’s son, Jacob, also graduated from McNeese and is the district director for the Calcasieu Area Council of Boy Scouts of America. “The devastation is horrible,” he said. “That’s why it hurts so hard. But we have something special, and we want to help rebuild it.”
The younger Fontenot, whose home was affected by the hurricane, touted Evangeline Bank with its newly opened branch in Lake Charles. “Just seeing them open their branch this past spring was a little piece of home coming to Lake Charles,” he said. “We can’t thank them enough for helping us today with this relief effort.”
As district director, Jacob enlisted the help of scouts from throughout the Calcasieu Area Council. Michael Beer, the council’s chief executive officer, said, “I’m very happy to be out here and support everybody who needs it here in the community. In 110 years, this is what scouts have done. Whenever there is a challenge or whenever there is a problem in the community, we rise up to it.”
“This time it’s our turn to receive and try to take care of our neighbors and do whatever we can no matter how big or small,” he continued. “We have to take care of those who take care of us.”
Beer resides in a downtown Lake Charles home that was built in 1947. “The bones are strong,” he described. “It took a beating. I’m favored in a sense that there is minimal structural damage, but we had so many staff members who lost everything.”
Beer is no stranger to hurricanes as he weathered 20 of them in his native state of Florida. “I have my badges,” he quipped.
Word of the scouts involvement in the efforts reached the Baton Rouge based Boy Scout Troop 888. Among those present from the capital city was Darrell Ourso. “I’m glad to be out here giving back and paying it forward,” he said. “We’re here to do clean up work and help serve meals.”
Ourso and fellow troop leader, Russell Oudit, both flooded in 2016 and have been giving back after receiving similar assistance back then. “I flooded and lived in an RV in a driveway for almost seven months,” he expressed.
“This is not an overnight thing that will go away, so we will be back again a couple more times.”
Tate acknowledged the help they were doing “was very minimal,” but, as Soileau said, “anything we can do helps a little bit.”
To that end, the elder Fontenot, Tim, said, “When it’s too big for Jesus, Jesus is going to help us through it. He’s going to bless us. Everybody is pulling together. This is what America needs. United, we can get it done.”
He concluded, “Jesus is going to take our loaves and our fish, and He’s going to multiply.”