By: Mimi Hymel
One sunny day in New Orleans, Louisiana there was news buzzing around my local town of Kenner. News about a hurricane coming. It was predicted to be a category 3 storm but living in the South no one thought it was a big deal.
No one knew until after it hit that it would soon spiral into a category 5 hurricane leaving behind $108 billion in damages, 800,000 people homeless and 1,833 fatalities.
My family is a family of refugees and survivors of Hurricane Katrina. We stayed through the storm the first few warnings, until they predicted it to be a category 4 storm. My family quickly packed up what could fit into our car and evacuated leaving my dad, a hospital worker who had to stay, behind. I also remember leaving my best friend behind, a teddy bear, to drown under the water from the flood. There was no room in the car to bring it, we could only take essentials- IDs, food, water, things that could not be easily replaced.
As a child it was very tough to know my favorite teddy bear, was going to drown and die in the storm. When we evacuated, we got help from Red Cross. My family received emergency items and financial support to buy essential items like diapers. This was a huge help to me, and my family and we can never thank the Red Cross enough. When the hurricane finally passed it left the city in ruins. Banks were closed, houses destroyed, lives lost, and no cell phone reception. It had been days since my father had to stay behind at his job at the hospital. We had no idea if he was alive, or ok. This is what made me especially grateful to Red Cross because they stepped in to help my family, we did’t have to think about finding toothpaste, food, or water, because they provided the essentials.
Days after the storm my family wondered if we still had a father, we finally reunited with my dad. I was so grateful he was still alive and was able to return to us, because I know some people weren’t as lucky. He told us many stories about his experience during the hurricane, and I can only imagine the horror and tragedy he lived through.
Working in a hospital made the building a target for looters when the storm got bad. Some came looking for drugs, others came for safety, helping the hospital board up windows and doors to keep them safe. My dad described how they were listening to updates on a radio and as the flood got higher and higher, they had to wheel, carry, and help patients go up each floor of the building while also keeping themselves safe.
My dad left many days after the storm when the water started to recede. He decided to try to drive himself out of the city since his car was parked in a garage on a high floor. He said there were fallen trees, and trash everywhere. The worst was bodies floating down the street washed away from cemeteries. This is truly terrifying and made me think about the severity of the storm.
If organizations like the Red Cross didn’t exist, I can only imagine how bad the amount of damage would have been. How many more lives lost, families homeless, without essential items. In disasters like this one, children can even get separated from their parents. This absolutely broke my heart to know children were alone, scared, without anything while their families were worried sick about them. This is when I decided I wanted to do more than just donate to the Red Cross. I wanted to truly give back to the organization that gave my family so much.
I decided to create a project, which is currently in the works of becoming a non-profit, called Comfort Bears in a Catastrophe, where I collect donations of teddy bears to be donated through a Red Cross partnership to children in natural disaster emergency relief shelters.
This way children going through natural disasters have a teddy bear they can talk to, hug, and just have something meaningful in this tough time. Often comfort items like teddy bears aren’t thought of in a natural disaster. People donate the essentials- tooth paste, money, food. A comfort item can make a huge difference for kids, especially for kids who are lost and in need of a ‘friend’.
I hope with my story I can make a difference by helping the Red Cross fundraise and bringing awareness to their mission which has helped so many, including me. I encourage you to look for a way to get involved with this organization that helped my family rebuild our life after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. I hope that by donating Comfort Bears to children it lifts their spirits, gives them something meaningful and allows them to have something to hold on to during these tough situations.
If you would like to get involved with Comfort Bears in a Catastrophe, please feel free to reach out to me via social media at @mimihymel02, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.