United Way Southeast Louisiana Provides Aid to Hurricane Laura Refugees

Peter Buffo

After Hurricane Laura devastated Lake Charles and southwest Louisiana, the city of New Orleans is housing around 9,000 refugees in spare hotel rooms. Nonprofits like United Way Southeast Louisiana on 2515 Canal St. in Mid City New Orleans are scrambling to rally aid and provide help to these struggling people.

United Way started as a community chest and this hurricane season is nothing new to the veteran nonprofit organization, which this year is celebrating its 95 year anniversary.

Michael Williamson started at United Way of Southeast Louisiana over a decade ago. He spent his first four years as the chief operating officer until transitioning to his current position as President and CEO of United Way Southeast Louisiana.

Williamson says that monetary donations are far and away the best way to contribute to relief efforts. However, the cash-strapped can still help: United Way is also collecting items such as hand sanitizer, soap, shampoo, diapers and feminine hygiene products. “I mean you think about the things that you would need in your house, just on a daily basis,” Williamson said. “Well, houses are gone now.”

Williamson also said, “Folks right now, they are coming into town and they’ll go to the Shrine on Airline and from there they’ll be told where you can go for shelter. That can be as far as Alexandria, Louisiana and it’s just dependent on where there’s shelter availability, including available hotel rooms.”

When asked to compare Hurricane Laura to previous natural disasters, Williamson shrugged. “I just think that if you’ve been in New Orleans for a while, this experience is not new for us here,” Williamson said. “I think we’ve just been really warmed by the outpouring of support, folks showing up and wanting to do their part.”

New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan pitched in to United Way’s relief efforts. Williamson said that Jordan showed up with “a truckful of items” to donate.

“Folks like us, to professional football players, everybody is just trying to do their part,” Williamson said.

Sonja Newman, resource development director for United Way on the Northshore, described the refugee situation as a natural give and take between the city of New Orleans and southeast Louisiana. “The city of New Orleans and southeast Louisiana were supported by other parts of our state and communities when we were affected by Katrina and other hurricanes,” Newman said. “We wanted to do something to support southwest Louisiana and that region since they were so good to us during Hurricane Katrina.”