Stephanie Wilson

Helping Hurricane Victims

I am from South Louisiana and was in New Orleans (NOLA) the weekend before Katrina hit. I was able to get out and fly back to Boston, where I was living at the time. I started hearing about how so many people had evacuated from NOLA and were staying with their family members (think 10 to 15 additional people at three-bedroom homes). Yes, quite a few were in shelters, but I kept hearing about all those staying with family or friends and who were receiving NO help.

I realized that I had so much; I was due for a ‘fall’ cleaning. I mentioned this to my roommate at the time. She mentioned it to her clients, and that week she came home with three trash bags full and said she would have more. This was getting to be a bit much to ship, so I decided I’d take a few days off work and drive home for a long weekend. With that decision, I thought, I may as well load up the car! So I informed people at work what I was doing and ended up having a donation drive there; that filled up a U-Haul!

I soon realized I was a bit over my head when I was receiving emails and drop-offs from complete strangers. My family has a non-profit that had not been active, so we reinstated it and “Otto’s Angels” allowed us to officially become a charity. We had multiple drives at a local radio station and furniture store, where we ended up filling three 18-wheelers; the drivers donated their rigs and time and we paid for gas. We had a fundraiser and raised $30,000 to help get the 18-wheelers to LA and buy other goods. My mom was able to secure a warehouse in New Iberia where people could come and just take items that they needed. We ended up having prison inmates unloading the 18-wheelers one weekend and then Utah National Guardsmen helping other weekends! It literally became a full-time job, but it was so exciting hearing stories of people able to come and get diapers for their babies or change clothes for first time since the hurricane!

I am still so humbled by the entire act of how so many people worked so well together to accomplish a life-changing event for many people.