"We started this project hoping to raise a little money to buy supplies for those in need and maybe donate to a few local organizations. God had other plans with this project though."

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
October 08, 2020
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After Hurricane Laura pummeled down on Lake Charles, Louisiana, in August, all locals knew it would be a long road back to recovery. A group of volunteers who go by the moniker "Picking Up The Pieces" knew they wanted to help their cherished Pelican State community for the better. For those who followed the story online or on TV, you may remember the devastating footage of the heavily damaged Capital One building (photo below), perched on the shoreline of Lake Charles itself. From the rubble, the group set out to make beautiful art and jewelry to both help with cleanup and keep local wildlife safe—with all proceeds are going directly back to the community’s rebuilding efforts. Of course, as Hurricane Delta heads towards Southwest Louisiana, we're thinking of this special pocket of the South once again.

“The Capital One tower is an icon of our Lake Charles and the surrounding cities. We wanted to take pieces of the devastation and turn it into something beautiful and lasting for our community," Rachel Sollay, co-founder of this grassroots imitative, tells Southern Living. Unfortunately, Sollay knows firsthand of the havoc Hurricane Laura wreaked as her home was significantly damaged in the storm. "My sweet Maw Maw has invited me to not only live with her, but she’s also allowed me to convert her home into our workshop for Picking Up the Pieces! Thank God for Maw Maw!” she says.

Chad Moreno / Killer Photography

Sharing her Picking Up The Pieces' co-founder's ethos, Sarah O’Neil shares, "After Hurricane Laura hit home, Rachel and I wanted to find some way to give back to our broken community. We accidentally stumbled upon this project and the outcome couldn’t have been better. Rachel picked up a piece of glass from the Capital One building and mentioned in a Facebook post how cute it would be in a necklace."

Shortly thereafter, O'Neil reached out to Sollay and the momentum built from there. "We started receiving requests for all kinds of things made out of the glass and ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ was born. We decided that people really wanted to support what we were doing, so we created a Facebook page and started taking orders! Before we knew it we had thousands of followers and hundreds of orders," she continues. Online demand for their pieces became so overwhelming that they switched gears to sell their wares in person. With the help of local artists, the group has made refrigerator magnets, keychains, jewelry, pictures of the Lake Charles landscape, and a map of Louisiana. For now, they've continued to put their shipping orders on pause, but if you'd like to reach out with donation inquiries, you can email Pickingupthepiecesdonation@gmail.com.

Rachel Sollay

Since its founding, the project has really taken on a life of its own: "We started this project hoping to raise a little money to buy supplies for those in need and maybe donate to a few local organizations. God had other plans with this project though," says O'Neil. "The word about what we were creating spread to thousands of people and even to different parts of the country! We are overwhelmed and beyond grateful for the support we have received in such a short amount of time."

Maggie Bradshaw Photo

"It’s been one of the most fulfilling and surreal experiences of my life to see the community unite in this way – a way that combines art, history, emotions, and charity. Our community has rallied behind this project, and we are humbled and amazed by the support," says Sollay. Above all, perhaps. these tiny shards of glass salvaged from the storm are a testament to the resiliency of the Lake Charles community.

Rachel Sollay

As Sollay puts it, “Having a piece of the Capital One tower is a reminder of where we come from, no matter where we end up.”