With at least 10,000 Hurricane Laura evacuees currently sheltered in New Orleans, local mutual aid groups are working to meet some often overlooked needs of disaster victims living away from home, like microwaves, Crock-Pots, toaster ovens, mini-fridges, and even homemade birthday cakes.
That’s the idea behind a Facebook page managed by Imagine Water Works, an eight-year old group of community volunteers in New Orleans. The space, where members can post offers, requests, and resources, is meant to ensure people “have a voice to ask for whatever they want without shame or judgment” in times of disaster, co-director Klie Kliebert told Eater. Lead by a multi-generational group of native New Orleanians, Imagine Water Works has been part of the greater mutual aid response during COVID-19 in hard-hit Louisiana and is now doing the same in the wake of Hurricane Laura.
Due to the pandemic, the majority of evacuees from the devastated Lake Charles area are staying in hotels throughout New Orleans rather than at one centralized shelter. So Imagine Water Works volunteers have been visiting the various hotel sites to hand out flyers, help people sign up for the Facebook group, and listen to their needs. They heard early on that people needed coolers and mini-fridges for their medicine, and from there, the requests for appliances to heat food followed.
“As folks started talking more and more about the food they were being served, it was apparent people needed a way to heat it up,” Kliebert said Wednesday. “It goes through multiple steps before it gets to the evacuees in their hotel rooms.”
#HurricaneLaura update from #NewOrleans: The mutual aid group has delivered dozens of microwaves and mini-fridges. Food is minimal and often served cold. This is true of many hotel sites. This is one reason why we believe people need to be able to ask for what they need/want —— Imagine Water Works (@WaterWorksNOLA) September 7, 2020
Imagine Water Works has since delivered dozens of the various appliances to evacuees at hotels, Kliebert said. And while a slow cooker isn’t cheap, some member requests make it possible for people to help in other ways besides donating money. A recent evacuee request was for a home-baked birthday cake; a woman wrote that she always baked her son a custom cake for his birthday, and that it would mean a lot to have one for him this year. They delivered on that, too.
“We want to care for folks in ways that don’t often happen in times of disaster,” Kliebert said of the group. “It can be done differently, where people actually have autonomy, and their needs are met beyond what has been prescribed to them.”