Six nurses from New Orleans, two of whom lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina, are driving straight-through to Iowa Friday. They’re delivering care packages and Cajun food.
The organizer of the effort, called "Big Relief from the Big Easy," couldn’t stand to do nothing, watching Iowans on TV cope with widespread destruction from flooding, reminding her of the Gulf Coast disaster of 2005.
Cheryl Carter and the other nurses are bringing a caravan of donated items, everything from cleaning supplies to coffee, after collections were made by nurses at five New Orleans-area hospitals. The shipment will be dispersed to 134 employees of St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, all of whom lost their homes to flooding.
"We hope to bring gifts for people that work at the hospitals, things that we needed and appreciated after we had to face the same circumstances," Carter says. "We hope to add a little bit of comfort to their lives by feeding them jambalaya and red beans and sausage, Southern comfort food for us." The massive hurricane three years ago took Carter’s home and she recalls the frustrations of trying to put her life back together after Katrina.
"You don’t have a water pitcher. You didn’t have a broom to clean your house with. Everything, you have to start from scratch to buy," she says. Carter is the emergency department director at East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie, Louisiana, one of only three hospitals in the New Orleans metro area that was able to continue operating immediately after the category-five hurricane hit.
St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids was in a similar situation last month, after Mercy Medical Center downtown was inundated by floodwaters. Carter says there’s also plenty of Kleenex in the care packages, as it’s an emotional time for everyone.
"Yesterday, we were downstairs in our hospital atrium. We did a raffle of a basket and the community was walking by and donating money. You could just see in their faces that it was all flashbacks," she says.
Those who didn’t have items to donate threw cash in the basket. She says many people looked upon this trip as a little way of paying back those who helped them after Katrina. Carter and crew will cook their Cajun feast on Saturday for 200 at the hospital, before they head for home Sunday, and back to work in New Orleans on Monday.