DENHAM SPRINGS -- What started as a simple supply giveaway eventually turned into an all-out party at Hebron Baptist Church.
People of all ages got to enjoy live music, food, games and fellowship during the "Pressing On Festival" that was held at Hebron Baptist Church in Denham Springs on Saturday, Aug. 12, to mark the one-year anniversary of the Great Flood of 2016.
It was a scorching 90-degree day as parents and children bounced around the 16 tents, which featured everything from food to face painting to storytime to games.
Smoothie King, Little Caesar’s and Raising Cane’s set up tents and gave away food, smoothies and drinks to more than 200 people who attended the festival, which lasted from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. in the parking lot just outside HBC’s main sanctuary.
Jon Bridgers and Todd Terrell of the Cajun Navy were also present, sitting on a weathered-looking airboat as admirers came to take pictures and say “thanks” for their efforts during and since the flood.
Participants tried to avoid the heat by constantly hydrating themselves or sitting in the shade under a huge tent in the center that was set up by Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard’s office.
But considering what was happening at this time 12 months ago — when historic floodwaters swept through Livingston Parish — the heat could be endured.
“A year ago, I wouldn’t have even thought we’d be here,” said Rev. Danny Mann.
Planning for the festival started four months ago, and Mann said it was originally supposed to be a “garage sale” for people still recovering from the Great Flood. But those plans quickly changed as businesses and more volunteers got involved, giving HBC leaders the idea for a more celebratory event.
And after everything the community has gone through in the last year, they couldn’t think of a more ideal theme than “Pressing On.”
“The reason we went with the “Pressing On” theme was because we thought it showed both sides of the coin,” Mann said. “There are people who have gotten through this situation, and there are people still battling it on a daily basis.
“But we’re all still pressing on as a community.”
The four buildings on HBC’s campus were virtually unaffected by the historic flood, but the same couldn’t be said for the church body.
Mann said “90 percent” of his regular 350-member congregation suffered some sort of damage last August, including himself, the church’s worship leader and the interim youth pastor.
It forced HBC to cancel its Sunday service the day after the flood, which was the first time that happened since Hurricane Gustav in 2008, as water surrounded the church located off La. Hwy. 16 south of Denham Springs.
But it soon got busy again at HBC, which then became a distribution center and lodging point for out-of-state teams coming to help the community get back on its feet.
HBC served more than 5,000 people in a three-week period and at one point had 150 volunteers sleeping in the church’s gymnasium, including a group from Wyoming that stayed for two weeks.
For some people, there was nowhere else to go.
“This entire area was an island, but people just flocked here,” said Mann, who recalled black hawk helicopters lifting people from the parking lot. “People just started showing up because they didn’t know where else to go.”
Those memories seemed like a lifetime ago as Mann, drenched in sweat, watched a much more pleasant scene unfold on Saturday.
Twenty HBC members, led by event organizer Barbara Stevenson, showed up to the church at 5 a.m. to set up the festival since heavy rain was in the forecast Friday night.
But the rain stayed away Saturday afternoon, much different than one year ago.
'It was meant to be," Stevenson said.
Once 10 a.m. hit, Mann started the event with a prayer before turning the microphone over to Jeff Taylor of the Livingston Parish Assessor’s Office.
Taylor spoke briefly before introducing three speakers — Denham Springs Marshal Joe Shumate, state treasurer candidate Angele Davis and District 5 council man Bubba Harris — who all shared thoughts on the past year.
Harris spoke the longest of the three, praising the efforts of the community as a whole but specifically pointing out the tireless work of Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks, Ard and Mark Harrell, director of Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the parish.
“We all know that without these committed people we’d be talking about our loss rather than celebrating our comeback,” Harris said.
Once Harris wrapped up his speech, the party was on.
A group of local musicians, all members of HBC, serenaded the crowd with soulful gospel music. There were two bounce houses for children to play in as well as a few booths set up with various games and prizes.
Festival goers chowed down on barbque pulled pork sandwiches, hot dogs, cheesy nachos and jambalaya provided by Ted Cedotal, who prepared a whopping 18 gallons of it that morning. There were also snow cones and cotton candy for those wanting a sweeter treat.
Throughout the day, HBC members could be seen helping out in their blue “Pressing on” t-shirts, doing everything from handing out water bottles to picking up trash.
To Mann, a Florida native, it was astounding to watch people coming together for the same cause — the same way they did 12 months ago. He’s now come to expect it from Louisianians.
“It’s not just this tight-knit community — it’s the culture of South Louisiana,” Mann said. “Even if I don’t know you, we’re still family. That’s the only way we got through all of this.”