Hometown Heroes

In Community, Liz Swaine by Lola Magazine

Written by Liz Swaine

It is no secret that the worst of times can bring out the best in people and such was the case during February’s Snowmageddon event. People all over the region were suffering in various ways. Power went out, water pipes froze, streets became impassable, city water pressure dropped and to many areas, ceased altogether. There were lot of references to #PioneerLife as people learned how to haul snow inside to fill toilet tanks, raided meager water caches and ate food that didn’t need to be cooked.

Unknown to many were those who were faring far worse; elderly and disabled in apartment buildings and nursing home-type facilities around the city, persons who depended on public transit that had stopped running early in the week, people who live in neighborhoods largely devoid of ‘neighborhood’ grocery stores that can be walked to if no transportation is available, and people who, because of age or situation were simply unable to prepare for a storm that we knew was coming, but that NO ONE realized would linger so long or create such widespread havoc.

There are many stories of heroes in our community, and all should be remembered and thanked, but this story is about two of them in downtown Shreveport.

On Tuesday of storm week, C&C Mercantile and Lighting owners Derek Simmons and Lauren Ross Simmons were at home in Highland dealing with low water pressure and rolling power blackouts, uncomfortable and inconvenienced. They read a lot, played with their kids and made the best of it…and then, they started seeing social media posts about people who were in real trouble, people in neighborhoods not that far away.

They reached out to Najeri Camara, a schoolteacher, friend and neighborhood advocate who Derek calls the “Rolodex of Allendale.” Camara’s mother passed away on the Wednesday of storm week so Camara had every right to opt out of the planning, but she knew that her neighbors needed help and she wanted to assist in providing it. The Simmons reached out in turn to a small group of close friends they asked to volunteer and to Bryan Roppolo, cofounder of the  Giving BAK Foundation, a group that works to provide food in the aftermath of disasters. They talked about providing meals for 500 beginning on Saturday, Feb. 20, which looked like the first day it would be safe to deliver.

When they reached out to Shreveport Police Department Chief Ben Raymond, the initiative took flight. Raymond’s officers had been delivering emergency water to the homebound and had been seeing other needs first-hand. Raymond tasked Sgt. Van Wray and Sgt. Amy Bowman to provide addresses and information to the Simmons and the floodgate opened. Desperate situations started rolling in: the 110 elderly and physically disabled tenants of Canaan Towers, the 150 tenants at the Wellington Apartments, tenants at Jordan Square, at Woody’s Home for Veterans, from individuals in neighborhoods around the city. The numbers of those in need — real need, people who had been without food for several days, showed that the initial outreach needed to grow.

Derek contacted Josh Knicely of Josh Knicely Builders who told them he would fund whatever they needed, and others stepped up and made donations. Derek and Lauren began calling restaurants, asking for hundreds of meals. All wanted to help, but many had no water and no way to get employees safely to their buildings to cook. Several restaurants were able to make it work anyway.

By Saturday afternoon, C&C’s hastily assembled volunteer army had acquired, packaged and delivered more than 2,000 meals to locations all over the city, traveling from Southern Hills to North Shreveport, to Cedar Grove, Queensborough, Allendale, Highland, West Shreveport, Downtown, Ingleside, Lakeside, and other points in-between. On Sunday, they did it all again, feeding another 1200+. City Council District C’s John Nickelson and District 6 Rep. Thomas Pressley went along on several Sunday deliveries and were both upset and angered by what they saw. Rep. Pressley offered to fund the continuation of the food service from C&C Mercantile and Lighting to two of the apartment buildings suffering the worst of the impacts for the remainder of the week.

The much-used saying is that it takes a village. In the case of this outreach, it took many heroes. Restaurants such as Bon Asian Cafe, Marilynn’s Place, Parish Taceaux and Fertitta’s Deli provided hundreds of meals either free or at less than cost. The Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission donated Styrofoam food containers; people stopped by to drop off water, even milk and yogurt.

Over the two days, the delivery volunteers took food to anyone who called and several who stopped in and asked for plates. First responders at the Emergency Operations Center, National Guardsmen in town to help clear roads, City of Shreveport Water Department and Public Works employees were also fed and given water.

There are many people to thank — the restaurants and donors: Bryan Roppolo of the Giving Bak Foundation, Joshua Knicely of Josh Knicely Builders, Chris Miller at HomeWise Builders, P & S Pantry, Bozz Baucum of Marilynn’s Place, KJ Noh of Bon Asian Cafe, Agatha and Robert McCall of Fertitta’s Deli, William and Jorie O’Brien of Parish Taceaux, and Looosiana Seafood Market.

Other rockstar individuals who worked in logistics, packed food and made deliveries included:

Melissa Albritton

Amy Liles Quinn

Bill McGill

Najeri Camara

Jason Brown

James Carmody

Denver McLendon

Katharine Meldrum Knicely

Brett Leigh Chamberlain

Andrew Crawford

Grant Nuckolls

Rev. Larry Otwell- Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission

Holly Roca

Graceanne Glassell Byrd

Kirsi-Marja Hardy

Kalandra Kyelle Jones

Jeff Spikes

Angie Jackson

Mallory Jordan Liles

Brenton Liles

The Martin Family

Eric and Nelson – C&C Staff

Liz Swaine

Kathy May Ross

Steve Culp

Saletha Clanton

Shreveport Police Department

The Hammack Family

James Carstenson and his daughters

And others who likely aren’t listed.

So why did a retail business that sells fun lighting and cool art and antiques jump into the fray to become a place of food and hope? Derek Simmons says he considers this work part of C&C’s mission statement.

“Our mission, and one of the reasons we moved to downtown, is that we believe in giving second chances. We did it with this building. We do it with our repurposed and rehabbed products, and we purposely named our business a ‘Mercantile.’ Mercantiles were traditionally the places where people gathered in neighborhoods and communities. We want to be that place that helps put things and people back together. It’s about people, it’s about culture…these are the things that are important to me and Lauren.”

We hope that a situation like this doesn’t happen again, but we know if it does, the heroes in our community will be there to help yet again.