BOGALUSA - When fierce flood waters swept across the Polks' property in March 2016, with it went a brand new home, two vehicles, and all of their belongings.
"We had to be rescued. The home was totally gone. We had no insurance. We had homeowners, but we had no flood," said JoAnna Polk.
Since then, the couple has lived in an RV, while raising and cleaning out an older home on the property with intentions of eventually moving in. It's been slow, until this week.
A 130-member student ministry group from San Antonio took over the reins, while working in collaboration with Bogalusa's Elizabeth Sullivan Memorial United Methodist Church.
"They've showed up every day. They're a delight," said Polk, "They've taken in our dog. My own kids won't do what they've done."
In addition to helping the Polks with their recovery, the group has assisted dozens of other residents with roof repairs and building handicapped ramps. They've also hosted bible and sports camps, and community parties.
"The idea is to revitalize Bogalusa and to bring the community together so that when we leave, the folks here in Bogalusa will have some relationship built with the church," said Clay Smallwood, who is student ministry leader with University United Methodist Church in San Antonio.
While goodwill is going a long way in the Washington Parish town, many people still need stronger assistance. That's why Restore Louisiana is bringing its services into the most needy communities, which includes helping flood victims fill out a survey to determine what help they need and can get. There are more than 2,000 homeowners who have a FEMA-verified loss that haven't applied for help from Restore Louisiana. The organization says it has enough money to help between 36,000 to 38,000 homeowners.
Polk and others are grateful for anything.
"Yea, lifts the spirit a lot," said flood victim James Weary, "Today, you're fine and tomorrow you're homeless. It's quite a tragedy there."
Residents say these efforts give them the boost they've needed to make themselves whole again.
In addition to those community meetings, Restore Louisiana has begun door-to-door survey sign-ups in affected communities. Staff members will be wearing Restore Louisiana vests with name badges when they come to your doorstep. Their goal is to see if there's help for flood victims to rebuild or be reimbursed for work already done. That outreach effort will last through mid-August.
Homeowners can also take the survey online at restore.La.Gov, or by telephone at (866) 735-2001 or by visiting one of the Restore Louisiana housing assistance centers in Lafayette, Hammond, Monroe and Baton Rouge. The centers are open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, Saturday, July 29, those centers will have operating hours.
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