Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Mayor of River Center

Story and photos by: Jay Bonafede, American Red Cross

“It’s the Mayor of River Center!”

That’s how shelter manager Bill Slotter greeted River Center shelter resident Cornell Legarde when starting his overnight shift at the Louisiana flood shelter in Baton Rouge. When talking to Cornell, it doesn’t take long to figure out where his nickname came from.

“You gotta keep a smile, no matter what you’re going through,” Cornell says he tells his fellow shelter residents. “At the other end of the rainbow, you’re gonna smile again anyway.”

It would be easy for Cornell to complain. The storm initially hit another area, and he thought he would be safe. When the water started rising at his home, he had to evacuate quickly, and has been staying at the River Center for nearly two weeks. Despite the dark times, Cornell’s sunny attitude is contagious among not only his fellow residents, but the volunteers working at the shelter as well.

“You see people working together as a team,” he says. “A non-denominational church came in on Sunday. They told us this was like a small church, everyone needs to come together. That’s kind of what the Red Cross provides, and that’s why I love it.”

Red Cross shelter manager Bill Slotter (right), a volunteer from Philadelphia, calls resident Cornell Legarde “The Mayor of River Center”. Cornell spreads a positive attitude throughout the Baton Rouge shelter for people evacuated after massive flooding affected much of Louisiana. “You gotta keep a smile, no matter what,” he says.

Miss Becky and her “Angels”

Story and photo by: Jay Bonafede, American Red Cross

Johnnie B. Walker and her family were forced from their Denham Springs home when much of Louisiana was affected by massive flooding in mid-August. They initially evacuated to a store parking lot, but were trapped there by the rising waters overnight, until military trucks brought them to a makeshift shelter set up at the Satsuma Community Center.

“That’s when Miss Becky and her angels showed up,” she says of shelter manager Becky Bowie and the Red Cross volunteers who worked to turn the makeshift shelter into something more pleasant for everyone. When Becky arrived, she met a single father with six kids who had been sleeping on the floor.

“When I set up the cots, he just started crying, hugged me and said, ‘Thank you, God,’” Becky said. Since then, the shelter moved to the North Park Recreation Center, but the volunteers and residents remain a tight-knit group.

“Anything we needed, they made it happen, and they’re still making it happen,” said Johnnie. “They treat everyone like family.”

“We practically live together, laugh and cry with each other,” Becky says. “The hard part is yet to come. Leaving, leaving them.”

“We know the volunteers have to go back to their families, but we’re all gonna cry,” says Johnnie, or “Mama J” as Becky calls her. “You’ve got to look out for each other in times like this. They treat us awesome.” 

North Park Recreation Center shelter manager Becky Bowie (L) calls resident Johnnie B. Walker “Mama J”. The two have been together since massive flooding ravaged much of Louisiana nearly two weeks ago. “Something good’s got to come out of this,” Walker says. “They treat us like family. When they leave, we’re going to cry.”