Mutual Aid Crews Get a Taste of Cajun Hospitality in Louisiana

A volunteer fills an individual serving container with pasta and meat sauce from a 50-gallon kettle to help feed first responders supporting hurricane recovery near Houma, Louisiana. (Photo By: Kevin Prejean)

Amid the massive power restoration effort after Hurricane Ida, Louisianans who were spared from the storm are stepping up to support mutual-aid crews still working in the hardest-hit areas.

“Ida missed us here in Lafayette, but the people over in Houma have been up against it, so we’re doing what we can to bring them a little hope,” said Kevin Prejean, a member of Southwest Louisiana Electric Membership Corp.

Prejean, a car salesman, is also a Cajun chef with a big heart, a self-contained mobile kitchen and a passion for feeding hungry people, including line crews and other first responders.

“We fed 1,200 people from the parking lot of the Houma police station last Thursday, and Tuesday we’ll prepare another 1,500 meals and pass them out down in Lafourche Parish,” he said.

With a team of six to 10 volunteers and mostly donated supplies, these meals have become a familiar site in Gulf Coast communities caught up in storm recovery efforts.

“We did Katrina and Rita back in 2005, and when Hurricane Delta hit last year, we did about 2,000 plates,” said Prejean. “Now, when a storm hits, my volunteer folks start calling and asking, ‘What are we doing for the storm?’”

After Delta, Prejean operated close to home. About 80,000 of SLEMCO’s members were without power after the storm made landfall near Creole, Louisiana, in October 2020. Once restoration work was completed, thousands of co-op members faced major repairs or the need to rebuild their homes. Prejean’s group provided meals in several locations across the storm-ravaged area.  

COVID-19 concerns have prompted some modifications, with serving times staggered to minimize congregating and meals boxed for distribution offsite.

Promotion of these efforts is largely driven by social media.

“We started a Facebook group called Feed Linemen,” said Sheila Caruso Person of Lafayette. “We connect volunteers with crews to get them food and water and help them find other things they need because, with the power off, a lot of businesses are still closed.”

Launched on Aug. 31 with about a dozen followers, the Facebook group now has close to 34,000 members, including many who sift through requests for help and quickly contact others close enough to respond.

“We have women who are going around locations where the line crews are staging and picking up bags of laundry,” said Person. “One woman has a network of friends pitching in and she did 300 loads of laundry in one day with the help of people who have power.”

While co-op mutual-aid crews often see signs of appreciation and offers of water and food near their work areas, social media has extended the reach of support, particularly from areas outside of outage zones.

“The community and cooperative spirit of the locals has been phenomenal,” said Mary Laurent, communications coordinator for SLEMCO. “People from across south Louisiana are turning out to feed line crews, wash their clothes and make donations of socks, snacks and toiletries. …

“Social media has really helped lineworker families to get the word out to locals that their men need help to keep working in this heat for 16-hour shifts. This year, in true Cajun fashion, men and women both started cooking and haven’t stopped. It’s been fantastic.”

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Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.