I’m not sure how the trip to Hurricane Laura country came about.
For some reason I was under the impression my pastor, the Rev. Shan Van Norman, was planning to take relief supplies to the area. So when I saw a Facebook post from a friend over there, I tagged him.
But Shan said he got the idea from my Facebook tag.
Regardless, next thing I knew he had lined up a trip.
Chalk it up as a God thing.
Bro. Shan sprang into action, announcing plans at church and posting a request for supplies on the Enterprise Baptist Church Facebook page. In particular, he asked for food, feminine products, tarpaulins, gasoline, Gatorage, bottled water and money.
When I showed up at church Monday morning, I was stunned to see tables in the fellowship hall loaded with donated supplies — and the church van already half full. I joined in with Shan loading boxes and cases of drinks.
He entered our destination into his GPS: Pine Ridge Baptist Church, Glenmora, La. That’s not far south of Alexandria, La.
I usually go through Natchez when I’m headed to central Louisiana, but his GPS said the shorter route was through Baton Rouge. So off we went.
Like a giant lawn mower
In late August, Tropical Storms Marco and Laura entered the Gulf to much fanfare. As they approached, predictions were that both would steamroll right over southwest Mississippi.
But Marco hooked a sharp left and fizzled out along the Louisiana coast.
Laura also looped west, but on Aug. 27 mushroomed into a Category 4 hurricane and buzzed north across Lake Charles like a giant lawn mower, grinding northward across central Louisiana.
Southwest Mississippi barely got a few showers and wind gusts.
The place Shan and I were going was in the piney woods well north of the landfall — about the same situation southwest Mississippi was in after Katrina hit.
South Louisiana road trip
At Baton Rouge we crossed the Mississippi River on the narrow Huey P. Long Bridge and followed Highway 190 west through corn fields and live oaks, across the jungly Morganza Floodway and over the broad Atchfalaya River at Krotz Springs.
I’ve been this way many times as a scenic route to Texas, a peaceful alternative to the truck-crowded I-10. However, over the years 190 has deteriorated until it’s more bone-jarring than the interstate.
We crossed mirror-smooth Bayou Courtableau at Port Barre (pronounced Barry) and turned north on I-49 just outside Opelousas.
When we pulled over at a gas station, this being Louisiana it also featured a casino and a liquor shelf. I suggested to Shan that we snag a couple bottles of Smirnoff and double our donation money on the slot machines.
He went me one better by saying we could then take our earnings and these supplies and high-tail it to Mexico.
Who says Baptist preachers don’t have a sense of humor?
No power for weeks
Funds intact and still sober, we jogged west through Forest Hill, called the Nursery Capital of Louisiana due to its endless string of plant nurseries. They’re nearly all wholesale, otherwise our plant-loving wives, Michelle and Angelyn, would make it a pilgrimage.
Following Highway 112, we drove through miles of Kisatchie National Forest until we reached aptly-named Pine Ridge Church in the community of Melder.
As we pulled up, Zack and Sandra Oliver emerged from the fellowship hall and we started unloading. Inside we chatted with them, pastor’s wife Beckie Townley and her brother Casey Boone. Townley’s husband Jason had already left with a batch of supplies for Lake Charles, the epicenter of destruction.
Zack told us about a family using a generator that was positioned outside under a the window of a bedroom full of boys. In the middle of the night a carbon monoxide alarm sounded, alerting them to deadly fumes.
They were fortunate. Of the 26 deaths from Laura, eight were reportedly from generators.
As for storm damage, there was plenty around here, they told us. Just head west on 112.
We did, and the area resembled southwest Mississippi after Katrina. Power crews in bucket trucks. Trees down, some on roofs. Demolished trailers. Blue tarps. Another church serving lunch to workers.
Back at Pine Ridge Church, we rendezvoused with Jill Hilton, our original contact. I knew Jill from the times bluegrass-gospel group Dogwood Cross had performed in her area.
Jill, who lives up the road, had been delivering relief supplies to neighbors even though she’d been without power since the storm. Some people have been told they won’t have power until November.
The supplies we brought were a drop in the bucket compared to the need. Shan immediately started planning another trip.
The Chicken King
On the way back, we approached an intersection where a homeless family held up a sign asking for food. I handed Shan some cash, but he reached for a bag of chocolate chip cookies Michelle had made us.
I protested mightily. Give away homemade chocolate chip cookies? Are you crazy?
But Shan — in the spirit of the Biblical widow who put all she had, two mites, into the collection plate — gave away the cookies and the money.
We made up for it by stopping at The Chicken King restaurant outside Port Barre.
As I complimented the manager on her cuisine, she told us how she had prayed the storm would miss her son’s trailer in Lake Charles. It hit all around, but spared his.
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To help out, contact your local church, Pastor Shan Van Norman at 601-657-0180, or visit the Enterprise Baptist Church Facebook page.