Nonprofit organizations in Louisiana are providing aid to people along the coast who have already been affected by the Gulf Coast oil spill—and waiting anxiously to see how many will ultimately be harmed by the disaster.
“As they closed down the fishing grounds and the oyster beds, people who were getting ready to go into peak season were suddenly cut off from their livelihood,” says Natalie Jayroe, chief executive of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana.
Since the oil spill started, she says, food pantries and feeding programs along the state’s southern coast have seen a 15 to 25 percent increase in requests for assistance.
Last week, BP America, the U.S. subsidiary of the company responsible for the oil spill, made a $1-million donation to Second Harvest Food Bank and its parent organization, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Earlier this month, the company made a $100,000 donation to Second Harvest Food Bank to replenish its inventory and increase food assistance in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.
Catholic Charities has opened five emergency relief centers where fishermen and their families can go for food and housing assistance, counseling, and case-management services. The centers have served more than 5,000 people so far.
Fishing families were hard hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and as a result many don’t have a financial cushion to fall back on, says Colleen D’Aquin Bosley, regional director of disaster preparedness and response at Catholic Charities.
“Many of them have taken out loans and other types of assistance to get their businesses back up and running,” she says. “They just don’t have the funds saved up. Katrina and Rita depleted those funds for these folks, so they’re living paycheck to paycheck.”
Catholic Charities expects that as the disaster grows the financial impact will spread to people who work in other industries, such as seafood processing, charter fishing, restaurants, and tourism.
The Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, in Baton Rouge, has awarded emergency grants totaling $117,500 to nine local nonprofit groups that are providing assistance to communities affected by the spill.
The amount of money donated in response to the oil spill has been relatively small.
• A benefit concert in New Orleans headlined by the singer Lenny Kravitz brought in $300,000 for the newly formed Gulf Relief Foundation. (Detailed financial information is available on the foundation’s Web site.)
• The Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, a project started by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors after Hurricane Katrina, has received $110,000. The fund has awarded $47,000 in emergency grants to nine grass-roots environmental groups in the region. The Gulf Coast Fund is also organizing tours that allow potential donors to see the work and meet the leaders of the groups the fund supports. A tour last week resulted in commitments of at least $60,000 to those organizations.
• The Gulf Oil Spill Fund, created by the Greater New Orleans Foundation on April 30, has received $20,000 so far, in addition to the foundation’s initial contribution of $60,000. The foundation’s development officer has been getting 10 to 15 phone calls and e-mail messages a day from people around the country—and some overseas—who want to help.
Several fund-raising events are being planned, including a cajun and zydeco festival, in East Sussex, England. A couple getting married in September are asking guests to donate in lieu of wedding presents, and the senior economics class at the Shelton School in Dallas raised $1,882 through its breakfast bar.
The Greater New Orleans Foundation has awarded a $50,000 grant to Seedco Financial for its Southeast Louisiana Fisheries Assistance Center, in Belle Chasse.
Seedco started the center in 2008 to provide financial and other assistance to fishing businesses that were still struggling to recover from the hurricanes in 2005. Since the oil spill, the center has worked to be a source of information for fishermen.
The center’s employees have been compiling daily updates with information about the location of BP claims offices and the documents applicants need to bring, town-hall meetings, hotlines for people affected by the disaster, and other services.
Counselors from the Small Business Administration are at the center to explain grants, loans, and other assistance that is available. Translation assistance is available in Vietnamese and Spanish. The center also provides information about other ways fishermen can earn money, such as placing boons to protect fragile coastline or working on controlled oil burns.
The demand for assistance at the center has jumped significantly.
More than 400 fishermen have accessed services since the oil spill. During the center’s first two years of operation, it provided assistance to roughly 800 people.
Before the spill, Seedco had actually been winding down operations at the center because the group’s work with fishermen had moved from emergency assistance to more traditional business counseling.
“That’s just not the case now,” Robin A. Barnes, a senior vice president at Seedco Financial, says wistfully.
Plaquemines Parish, which donated the space where the fisheries assistance center is located, has renewed its commitment for at least six more months.
Lessons of Katrina
Local nonprofit officials say they are drawing on lessons they learned after Hurricane Katrina.
Catholic Charities now has two full-time employees dedicated to emergency preparedness and response, says Gordon Wadge, one of the organization’s co-presidents.
A big part of their jobs, he says, is to build and maintain relationships to other nonprofit groups, government officials, and other entities, such as local companies and associations.
“Relationship management is a huge part of disaster response,” says Mr. Wadge. “You have to be trusted.”
But while charities gained valuable experience after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, some observers worry that it will be difficult for them to respond to another disaster, even as they continue to provide assistance to people who are still rebuilding after the hurricanes.
“Most of these organizations are stretched remarkably thin,” says Melissa S. Flournoy, director of the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute, in New Orleans. “The national foundation funding has started to dry up. The demand on organizations has not significantly decreased, but the available funding has.”