DENHAM SPRINGS – Live music and a hot meal – rarities in the post-flood era – lured Dana Guarisco from her home for a much needed getaway on Sept. 18.
“Doin’ it for Denham” allowed Guarisco and several hundred other residents to enjoy music from area bands and scrumptious dishes offered at a “donation only” price by some of the finest New Orleans and Baton Rouge eateries.
“I don’t have anywhere to cook, so I came,” said Guarisco, whose Walker home took in nearly three feet of water in the record August flooding. “I don’t get many hot meals these days, and the few things I get from the Red Cross just aren’t that much.”
The Louisiana Hospitality Foundation and Taste Buds Management spearheaded the event, which drew from prominent eateries in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Greg Reggio of Taste Buds Management, who also owns Zea’s Rotisserie Grill and Semolina’s, organized similar events after devastating tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo. He recognized an even greater sense of urgency with the Livingston Parish floods.
“I don’t think you could grasp the widespread devastation here just from what you saw on the TV screen,” he said. “When Katrina hit New Orleans, you could see house after house and in New Orleans, with houses so close, you pan the camera house after house.
“Over here, you saw a rural area with open land a lot of beautiful trees, and lot of floodwater,” Reggio said. “You didn’t see the impact of it until you saw people gutting their houses, and saw piles of debris as high as their home.”
He does not believe much of the nation realizes the plight of Livingston Parish residents.
“Not much of the national media was there when all that was happening,” Reggio said. “We drove around here. We know the area well, so we drove through it and knew we had to do something.”
Food vendor Joe Nunez, who helped serve jambalaya at the Zatarain’s booth, has worked several of the benefit events.
Nunez knows a thing or two about life on the other side of the fence. His parents relocated to Walker from Chalmette after they lost all their belongings during Hurricane Katrina.
“You never fully understand the extent of the hardship until you’ve been through it,” said Nunez, who weathered Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “It’s surreal and heartbreaking.”
Resident Jocelyn Rayburn, who has lived in a camper trailer since three feet of water deluged her Plantation Estates home, said she was moved by the willingness of the New Orleans community to give back 11 years after Katrina.
“Our hearts bled for them after Katrina, and we stepped up for them,” she said. “They’re doing the same thing for us now, and it means so much.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” Rayburn said. “It’s a great way to show them our appreciation.”
Vendors and attendees seemed happy in spite of the grim background of the event.
New Orleans band Category 6 – an ironic name, perhaps, for a group that performed in a storm relief event – delivered upbeat tunes ranging from Van Halen’s 1984 classic “Jump” and the much-more recent “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, along with the appropriate Garth Brooks selection “Calling Baton Rouge.”
Chris and Brenda Guidry of Denham Springs divided their time between food and beverages, the band and a big screen TV showing of the Saints-Giants game – maybe not the most uplifting element, considering the outcome.
They lost their home and all the belongings. The wounds are fresh, but they considered the event a big step in the healing process.
“It lifts our spirits,” Chris Guidry said. “We had four feet of water in our house, and we decided it was time to get out from the work and all the depression of seeing what has happened.
“We couldn’t ask for better than the great music and delicious food today,” he said. “The organizers of this event did a great job.”
Reggio said he would not put his efforts in the same bracket as first responders or the Red Cross. He and the other vendors wanted to extend a hand, he said.
“We’re here to give them a break, let them know what they’re going through and that we’re here to support them,” Reggio said.
Vendors included T.J Ribs, Rani, Katie’s, Trey Yuen, Bud’s Broiler, Zea Rotisserie Grill, Acme Oyster House, Drago’s, Ruffino’s, Juban’s, Raising Cane’s, Cajun Corner, Galatoire’s Bistro, PJ’s Coffee and venerable New Orleans culinary manufacturer Zatarain’s.
Also as a part of the event, the NOLA Tree Project, led by Connie Uddo, led volunteers to assist flood victims with cleanup efforts the morning of the event.