South Louisiana Still Needs Us: Learn About the Bayou Fund and How You Can Help
"My parents still have no electricity and just got running water. Their roof ripped completely off. The devastation across the bayou is incomprehensible. But it's home."
Melissa M. Martin, who founded lauded New Orleans restaurant Mosquito Supper Club, understands why her parents returned to their ravaged hometown of Chauvin after evacuating from Hurricane Ida's unwavering Category 4 wrath on August 30th.
Chauvin is a tight knit bayou hamlet in Terrebonne Parish. It's a stone's throw north of Cocodrie, which kisses the Gulf of Mexico and, subsequently, was annihilated by Ida. While Chauvin is less than 2 hours south of New Orleans, or "down the bayou" as locals say, it feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the Crescent City.
A braided network of meandering bayous make up the Terrebonne Parish and border much of the Louisiana coastline. When looking at the state map, it's the splintering veins at the bottom of the boot, with its iconic marshes being the main artery of our Southern seafood foodways. It's also ground zero for natural disasters like Ida.
"Those of us that live there have a complicated relationship with water: it ebbs and flows around everything in South Louisiana.; it gives and it takes. Water is our lifeline and our dark shadow," Martin reminisces in her bestselling cookbook, Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou. "When seen from above, the land is completely surrounded by water, and Chauvin is barely recognizable as a place of habitation. One might wonder how a community could exist inundated by so much water. But it's a community grounded in the convergence of salt water, brackish water, marsh, land, people and traditions, and is one of the oldest and most influential culinary places in the country."
Shrimp, oysters, crabs, and more seafood come from this vulnerable yet vital part of Louisiana. People have passed down shrimping and fishing traditions for generations, but it has been slowly dwindling year after year. The coast is also in peril. Louisiana loses a football field's worth of land every 100 minutes thanks to a myriad of problems, including decades of oil industry activity and natural disasters like Ida. But Martin's family has called the bayou home for generations, and they're not giving up.
While they evacuated for Ida, Martin shares that her parents couldn't stay away from the collective grief of the community. But people from the bayou don't wallow in despair. They don't wait for help. They get to work, as seen in Martin's herculean grassroots effort and boots-on-the-ground help with the Bayou Fund.
"We partnered with the local Helio Foundation to get real help to people from the community that knows it best," shares Martin, who has been referred to as the unofficial FEMA director of the region thanks to her passion and ability to organize real help for the community. "Most people don't have electricity or even street addresses on their homes, if their home is standing at all. Some are living in tents. We're going into the community, handing out cash, hot meals, gas, whatever they need."
Many electrical boxes were ripped from homes, so even when electricity returns to the region the homes still won't have power, so they are working on getting new ones air dropped into the bayou. Same with building supplies. They're also trying to get laundry trailer stations so people can wash and dry their clothes. The list goes on and on. The Bayou Fund is not only listening to the needs of the area—it's taking action.
Only time will tell what long-term toll Ida takes on South Louisiana. The bayou communities are resilient, even after years of hurricanes and oil spills, but with the continuing loss of land and more powerful storms like Ida, its future is uncertain. "My parent's generation might be the last Cajun generation; the last people that speak French in the area," shares Martin. "My parents and cousins have lived nowhere else. They will stay and keep waxing and waning with climate change. But if something isn't done, from new building standards or legislation, the community could eventually disappear along with the marshes." But like the generations of Cajuns that came before them, Martin isn't giving up.
Please donate to the Bayou Fund and help this invaluable and imperiled community.