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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Hospitality does not go unrewarded (Part 1)

Hospitality does not go unrewarded (Part 1)

Jasmine Ayo and Richard C. Thomas hold up interactive artwork that will decorate the LCC.

My relationship with the Civic Center and the community of Larose began with the monumental event that became known to us all only as KATRINA.� As the story goes, my family and I were made to evacuate our downtown home after the storm when the flooding broke through more than 50 levees and floodwalls in the city of New Orleans.�

We fled our street by boat and ended up walking to the top of the I-610 bridge.

We were able to flag down a helicopter which dramatically swooped down and picked ten of us up and deposited us to the Causeway Exit in Metairie where we were lowered to the raised highway and told that we would be transported somewhere safe.

There were buses leaving at least three times a day from the Metairie location and bringing people to cities outside of Louisiana including Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and others. �

My prayer to God, at that time, was that there had to be good people from Louisiana that also cared for the people of New Orleans, not just cities that were being forced to take evacuees.

Soon my prayers would be answered. We waited two and half days before catching a ride with ECS to Thibodaux General Hospital where there was no room either there nor at neighboring Nicholls State University since all sites were full.

We were allowed to clean ourselves up and given a small meal to eat and at three that morning we were placed on a school bus and driven to the Larose Civic Center 45 minutes south of Thibodaux.

We slept on the gym floor along with many other families, now I know that over 800 evacuees spent more than 8 weeks housed in the Civic Center’s main meeting room, the gymnasium. We had no idea where we were until the very next morning, not knowing the name or area of the location where we’d been bussed to.

Civic Center Director, Jasmine Ayo, remembers the night that Richard and his family were bussed to the Civic Center. At this time the small Civic Center staff was running 24/7 on little sleep, few amenities and only small amounts of hope for the building full of hopelessness that had become a quick home to many.

Richard and his family, including two small children, had little more than the clothing on their backs and a few small bags, including a backpack that contained several pieces of Richard’s valuable artwork.

The Thomas’ were given bedding, snacks and toiletries and all went to sleep that night hoping for a better tomorrow.

The Civic Center, known for its hospitality during regular events, soon became responsible for hundreds of displaced persons all while trying to get back to day-to-day operations.

As Richard remembers it, people began to bring food to the center to feed all that were residing there ... all kinds of food, mostly Cajun dishes like jambalaya, boudin sausages, gumbo and crawfish etouffee. I actually thought that we had all died and had gone to Cajun heaven!

The Thomas family noticed that people had a different accent down the bayou. The first person I met was a priest from the local Our Lady of the Rosary Church. He prayed with my family and we finally felt safe after our long journey to the bayou. It was the most incredible prayer I’ve ever heard … he talked about faith and about how we were going to be ok. He wanted to make sure that we knew God was going to get us through these difficulties.

Sightings of American Red Cross workers, clergy from area churches and the Civic Center’s staff and hundreds of volunteers were a daily comfort at this time.

Later that morning a little boy that came by to meet me and he told me he was an artist and that his family lived in Galliano. He said his father was a tug boat captain and he was there with his family since they fled the misery that Katrina had become as well, he’d been at the Civic Center for almost a week, us just a few days.

After showing him some of my artwork we became best friends during our stay. After making sure my wife and daughters were ok and as settled as possible, we went to an area of the center where they were giving away clothing, bedding and shoes. We were told to pick whatever we liked. My new friend and I did not know that hundreds of local families had donated these items beginning only hours after the storm to both the Civic Center and the local radio station.

While I was helping my new friend pick out clothes, a lady named Marlene “Mimi” Williams approached us. She asked me if I was from New Orleans? I said yes, and she said she saw what we had been through on television and that she was sorry.

She wanted to know if my family and I needed assistance washing our clothing. She asked if she could take them home and wash them for us. At that moment I thought that that was the sweetest thing I had ever heard in my entire life! It was like Jesus asking to wash his disciple’s feet.

Not only did she wash and dry our clothes, but she folded them as well. She brought them back all folded inside of a small suitcase. Little did I know that this would begin an eight-week adventure living in the Williams family home in north Larose?

Editor’s Note: The second part of Richard Thomas’ journey will be published in the Wednesday, October 16th edition of the Lafourche Gazette.