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nursing flood donation drive team
For Marirose Bernard and Nicole Koppi, August 29 now has a positive association to help temper their horrific memories of the date of the worst man-made residential disaster in American history.

Eleven years ago, Bernard was a nurse trapped by floodwaters in Memorial Medical Center coordinating the evacuation of critically ill newborns and 2000 patients, families, and staff, while her family endured unbearable conditions at the Morial Convention Center. They lost their home, along with family treasures and just about everything they owned. When the federal floodwalls failed after Hurricane Katrina brushed the city of New Orleans, about 80% of the city and parish was inundated.

Eleven years ago Koppi and her mother were displaced from their home, carrying only a duffel bag of belongings. They lost their home in Lacombe, a bayou town outside of Slidell close to where Katrina came ashore.

It has been reported that the “1,000-year flood” in August 2016, dumped three times more rainwater in affected Louisiana parishes than Hurricane Katrina. Areas flooded that had never flooded before, and many residents did not have flood insurance.

“I was looking at the pictures of the flooded areas Sunday and was zapped back to Katrina like never before,” says Marirose Bernard, MN, APRN, NE-BC, Instructor and Student Nurses Association (SNA) Faculty Advisor, at LSU Health New Orleans’ School of Nursing. “I was quite upset and wanted to grab some students and go man one of the shelters!”

Baton Rouge flooding
She realized that she couldn’t do that, but Marirose Bernard knew she couldn’t just do nothing. So, she decided to do donation drive. After all, she knew firsthand what people would need to start over.

“As I thought about how to organize the drive, Nicole Koppi, one of the SNA officers, texted me and asked about doing a donation drive,” says Bernard. “I was excited that our SNA was thinking along the same lines as I was! My husband and I went out and bought bins and boxes, and on Monday, made signs for the boxes and put them around campus.”

“I live part-time in Baton Rouge, and witnessing the devastation that my fellow citizens went through was a call to action for me,” recalls Nicole Koppi, LSU Health New Orleans nursing student and an SNA Community Service Coordinator. After her Katrina experience, “it felt very close to home to witness 40,000 families being carried away via boat from everything they knew and loved. I’ve never seen flooding quite so destructive as the flood we witnessed last month, and I never want any parent to feel like they have to start from scratch alone.”
While Koppi’s home was spared the flood this time, other LSU Health New Orleans nursing students weren’t so lucky. “Our White Coat ceremony was less than a week from the peak of the flood, and many students in my class were not able to attend because of the flood’s effect on Baton Rouge’s infrastructure and road system. Those students also lost their mandatory supplies for clinical and lecture, both of which were quickly approaching. A few classmates mentioned the idea of hosting a fundraiser to donate goods to students who were affected. We decided to bring this effort to the attention of the Student Nurses Association. In a matter of days, we were able to replace the mandatory supplies for our classmates with anonymously donated textbooks, uniforms, and clinical necessities. The day of our White Coat Ceremony, the donation drive for the Greater Baton Rouge area began.”
Katelyn Freyou, LSU Health New Orleans nursing student and SNA President, also knows how much the donations are needed. “ I am from New Iberia, and I had a number of family members affected by the flood. Growing up in Louisiana through numerous natural disasters, I have learned that whenever one Louisiana community is suffering, our whole state is suffering. I became involved because it has always been instilled in me to help those in need. My mother, a gifted teacher, and my father, a courageous police officer, taught me that hard work and a compassionate heart are what one needs during these tough times, and I wanted to provide that to those who needed it.”
Katelyn Freyou
The drive was on, and it was about to gain even greater momentum. The School of Allied Health Professions came aboard when an Occupational Therapy student emailed Bernard asking if they could join nursing’s donation drive.

“I am the president of Rotaract, a new service organization on campus,” said Katherine Hammer, a Master of Occupational Therapy student in the Class of 2018. “Nursing student and Rotaract vice-president Jane Bordelon informed me of the SNA flood donation drive. I wanted to use my position to get more programs involved. Having a school-wide donation drive had a greater impact by pulling all of our efforts together.”

donations to nursing flood drive
The donations flooded in. The boxes and bins were filled to overflowing. People donated canned and nonperishable food, bottled water, cleaning supplies, baby food, diapers, toys, adult, children and baby clothing, shoes, first-aid supplies, bedding, toiletries and household items. It took days to sort, catalog, box and label everything.

“it was awe-inspiring to see the interprofessional generosity from our schools throughout campus,” reflects Freyou.

“We had such a variety of donated items in so many categories, it was very difficult to find someone who would take everything,” notes Bernard. “The Rouse's on Carrollton told me they are working with Second Harvest Food Bank and their distribution channels to get the items to those in the most need.”
Our faculty, staff and students donated so much during the two-week drive – 70 boxes –Bernard needed a cargo truck to deliver it all. Her husband contacted Mike Diecidue, the owner of Dash Lumber Company, who was very eager to be part of the effort. On Monday afternoon, a large Dash Lumber delivery truck pulled up to the loading dock behind the School of Nursing and School of Allied Health Professions building. A team of nursing students and faculty, along with the driver and a helper, loaded up the truck and headed to Rouse’s.
loading Dash Lumber truck
“The Rouse’s employees were amazed at the amount of supplies we had,” says Freyou. “We were able to collect four pallets full of items!”

“I am so proud of our faculty, staff and students for organizing this overwhelmingly successful drive,” commented Dr. Demetrius Porche, Dean of LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing. “It is particularly meaningful to be able to help those who are now experiencing some of the same things we did in New Orleans after Katrina.”

Nursing White Coat Ceremony
“The donation drive is a demonstration of the power of community,” says Koppi. “It only takes a few people to make a huge difference. During our White Coat Ceremony the day the donation drive began, my class delivered our oath to devote our careers to caring for others and to do our best to make them whole. LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing’s faculty teach us from our first day to live our lives in accordance to the values of C-PRIDE, ‘Caring, Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Diversity, and Excellence,’ and watching that lumber truck carry away 70 boxes that will put some pieces back together for the people of Baton Rouge, I can’t help but think we embodied those ethics.”
Monday was August 29--this year, a positive one. It is the day Marirose Bernard and Nicole Koppi, along with a dedicated team, helped begin the process of turning tragedy into triumph for those who are now embarking on the long journey to recovery they began that other fateful August. And like Katrina survivors, with this kind of support and generosity, they, too, will come through to the other side.