SPRINGFIELD – Louisiana’s now-it’s-winter, now-it’s-not weather means keep a jacket handy.
And through the efforts of one Tickfaw River resident -- and some New Jersey friends – Springfield students are ready when the days start with now-it’s-winter.
While his own home suffered flooding damage in August, Mike Arone wanted to help Springfield students.
He got in touch with counselor Brogan Fairchild at Springfield High School the next month and learned what was needed most was coats and jackets.
“Everybody flooded. Everybody lost everything,” Arone said.
Tapping New Jersey for help was easy for Arone, who reached out to fans and friends of his annual Crawfish Fest in Augusta, N.J.
In the mid-1980’s, when the oil boom went bust in Louisiana, a lot of skilled workers had to leave to find work, Arone said.
“I was one of those guys,” said the union electrician.
The New Jersey local told the local here, he said, “ ‘Send them up.’ ’’
“I had never been above Arkansas. I was homesick,” Arone recalled.
And he missed what any Louisiana native misses the most – Louisiana cooking.
“I had a crawfish boil and it got bigger and bigger. It’s not what I planned,” Arone said.
What he didn’t plan has become the annual Crawfish Fest, which marks its 28th year in June. It features four stages with 23 to 25 bands and has attracted performers such as Dr. John, Erma Thomas and Aaron Neville while serving up po-boys, etouffee and boiled crawfish.
“We use Louisiana crawfish tail meat,” Arnone said, “Everything is real.”
“The festival attracts two people: those who left (Louisiana) and live there and those who love Louisiana food and music,” he said.
Although Arone came back to Louisiana and fulfilled his dream of living on the Tickfaw River, he goes back for his Crawfish Fest.
And his call for help was answered.
The Crawfish Fest Krewe teamed up with Alison Kaufman of “The Morning Mojo Show” on WCNI-FM, the Gypsy Givers and The Newton Theater to collect coats.
From Good Homes, veteran performers at the Crawfish Fest, packed the Newton Theater for two nights in mid-December, where fans of both the band and the Crawfish Fest donated coats.
The Gypsy Givers, a nonprofit female duo who travel the United States volunteering and donating their time to various organizations and individuals, organized a gathering of coats when it performed in Newton, N.J.
They then boxed and shipped the coats to Springfield.
“I wasn’t surprised,” at the outpouring of support, Arnone said. “These people really give. I knew if I put out the word, they would rise to the occasion. I’m proud they raised enough coats for everyone.”
When he first contacted Fairchild, the high school was sharing space on the middle school campus, “and their hands were full.”
So Arone hit on an idea to get the donations quickly to Springfield.
“We didn’t have to collect the coats,” Arnone said; they were sent by FedEx or UPS directly to Springfield High.
Everyone who needed a coat got one and the extras were given to the Head Start program, Arone said.
Arone soon will be planning his 28th Annual Crawfish Fest for June 2-4 at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, N.J.
After this year’s festival, Arone said he will be making decisions about his Tickfaw River home, whether to either tear it down and build it again or raise it “high up in the air.”
Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.