By Cyndi Sellers
Immediately after Hurricane Laura hit Southwest Louisiana, all the news seemed to be about Lake Charles. Former Hackberry resident Carly Rae Fountain was disturbed by the lack of mention of her community and others in Cameron Parish and determined to do something about it. Her mother puts it another way. “An angel stepped up,” says Bobbie Fountain.
“The Lake Charles VA center where she worked as a nurse was closed, so she went to work, contacting the United Cajun Navy, asking people to cook and donate, and setting up a distribution center in Hackberry.”
Carly doesn’t want to talk about her contribution, but to tell the Hackberry story she agreed to be interviewed: on the news, on YouTube, and for this paper. She told people that Hackberry was not near Lake Charles, but had heavy damage, too. “After Rita and Ike, they were described as a low population marshy area, and that’s all,” she said. “I refused for them to be forgotten about again.”
She had met the president of the United Cajun Navy, Todd Terrell, two years before and followed the organization to make sure it was trustworthy. Two days before Laura she decided to stay at home in Carlyss and joined the UCN. At daybreak on Friday, she was checking on friends and doing welfare checks. Then she started fighting for Hackberry, using the Zillow app.
The first shipment arrived on Sunday after the storm, from the Florida branch of UCN, Next Generation Vets, and Jennifer Leatherman-Toby. They sent 24,000 pounds of supplies on a 24′ flatbed truck, which broke down twice on the way and finally broke down again in Lake Charles.
Carley, her boyfriend Andrew Dowers, and four friends, Josh and Santana Dupuie and Josh and Ashley Herman, loaded up several smaller vehicles and moved 90 percent of the load to Hackberry. Earlier in the journey, a truck driver named Leonard Harrison, also called “Country,” and his truck “Goliath” had moved supplies from North Carolina to Florida, breaking down once in Georgia.
Carly praised the efforts of the United Cajun Navy, a 501c3 non-profit organization whose members and volunteers receive no monetary compensation for their work. UCN dispatched 10 volunteers to Brown’s Grocery in Hackberry and they cleaned it out in four hours. Others cleared the road out of Big Lake where people were stranded. With the help of a large donation from Cameron LNG and Sempra, the organization was able to purchase generators to loan out. When they are no longer needed, they are returned to UCN to be refurbished and made ready for the next disaster. A load of mattresses was delivered to Hackberry and Johnson Bayou. Food cooked by Operation Barbeque Relief was delivered to Hackberry by UCN volunteer James Evans. Donations came from Montana to Texas and from South Carolina to Florida.
“The amount of love, neighbors helping neighbors, was overwhelming,” Carly says. We’re going to come back, rebuild, even stronger than ever. We are Cameron Parish strong.” She credits residents Gwen and Jerry Constance and her parents Curtis and Bobbie Fountain for setting up the distribution site and keeping it running, as well as all the Hackberry volunteers who worked there. Eventually there was so much coming in that they diverted trucks to DeRidder and Johnson Bayou.
One day there were three different groups cooking food for locals. In one day, 4,000 meals were given away. A man named Joe Cook came from Alabama with his Hibachi grill. Justin Swire, Troy Fountain and Tina Guidry cooked for linemen every night for a week, at their own expense. Linemen said they had never been treated with as much hospitality as they received in Southwest Louisiana.
One couple, Theresa and Max Broussard, lost their son Ross in a tragic boating accident just a week before the storm. But they have been in Hackberry every step of the way, Carly says, putting their own things aside to help oth- ers, to pray with others. “Their faith never wavered.”
Carly also wanted to mention her brother C. R. Fountain, an electrician who helped with generators, and UCN volunteers Echo Lee and Chad Fahnestock, of Ohio and Pennsylvania, who helped via internet. With their help many different types of dona- tions were secured, including extension cords and first aid kits, which are arriving today. The Hackberry Distribution Center has now closed, and remaining items have been sent to Johnson Bayou. It has been a job well done.
The United Cajun Navy is still working in the area. Anyone in need can contact them at unitedcajunnavy.org to request assistance.
Carly said the lack of damage at her own house in Carlyss made it possible to spend so much energy on helping the community. She felt a little guilty about her house surviving when so many had lost theirs, but others told her maybe the purpose was for her to be free to help. At any rate, she was glad to be able to do something for her hometown. “You can take the girl out of Hackberry, but you can’t take Hackberry out of the girl,” she says.