Destin Realtor spurs effort to collect Hurricane Ida relief supplies


FORT WALTON BEACH — A local real estate agent and Louisiana resident has teamed up with the cities of Fort Walton Beach and Destin to collect Hurricane Ida relief donations for Louisiana residents affected by the storm.

Damien Callais was born and raised in New Orleans, where most of his family were evacuated before Hurricane Ida hit southern Louisiana on Sunday. Millions of people were still without power on Thursday, and Callais said the supply chain for several items such as bottled water and canned food is “barely”.

“They can’t get much of the stuff we have now,” Callais said. “It is within miles and miles of the affected area. The supply chain is just dire right now.”

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Callais was a founding member of the Cajun Navy, a volunteer organization that works with authorities to conduct water rescues and other civilian-led disaster relief missions. He has lived in the Florida Panhandle for three years, but normally goes to Louisiana to help when the storms come through.

With his family staying in apartments in the Destin area this year, Callais said he decided to stay behind and help in other ways. Fort Walton Beach’s AA Transfer and Storage loaned two 53-foot moving trailers to Callais to use for the local effort he calls “Operation Serve.”

“The people of Louisiana are resilient people. They persevere, and I think it’s in our blood to serve,” Callais said. “That’s why it’s called Operation Serve. It is our chance to serve our neighbors.”

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The moving trailers are stationed outside Fort Walton Beach City Hall at 107 Miracle Strip Parkway and in the Morgan Sports Center east parking lot behind Destin City Hall at 4100 Indian Bayou Trail.

Donations can be dropped off at both locations on Friday and Saturday from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM and are picked up on Sunday from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Callais said the items needed are Gatorade, canned food, baby food, pet food, towels, socks and underwear. A full list can be found at the City of Fort Walton Beach and City of Destin’s Facebook pages.

A major need that had not yet been met on Thursday was roofing.

“We need a lot of blue tarpaulins and roofing nails. Right now, one of the biggest problems when a storm comes in and does what it does is blow a lot of roofs off,” Callais said. “Many people don’t want to leave their homes to go to a shelter. That’s all they have. They want to protect their stuff.”

Volunteers started collecting items on Wednesday. While the trailer in Fort Walton Beach was still a little scarce on Thursday, Callais said several people helped and he expects to have full trucks by the end of the week.

A man came by with a trailer full of donations. Local businesses have also started to do their part, donating more than 10,000 pounds of ice cream and several gallons of fuel for the trip to Louisiana.

“There are just a lot of people doing great things to help us. It’s just about neighbors helping neighbors,” Callais said. “I have a feeling with the way Destin already looks. Just with a few people coming over we’ll probably have more than one truck.”

All donations will be taken to a distribution center in Amite City, Louisiana. Callais said about 2,000 elderly people from assisted living centers are seeking shelter in a warehouse on the same site.

The Fuller Center for Housing, a faith-based nonprofit that helps build affordable housing for people in southeastern Louisiana, helped move the people to the facility and will use some of the donations to take care of them. .

The remaining supplies will be distributed among five parishes: Jefferson, Orleans, Lafourche, St. John the Baptist and St. Bernard.

Callais said he helped after nine hurricanes in Louisiana. His family weathered Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in Louisiana 16 years ago on the same date as Hurricane Ida.

The August 29 landing brought back many memories of Katrina, who destroyed the homes of his mother and grandmother. Though he hasn’t been to Louisiana yet, Callais said the damage from Hurricane Ida is “very bad.”

“That area often seems to be hit pretty hard. Last year there were two hurricanes that I responded to in boats. It was just awful,” he said. “My family has a fishing camp in Grand Isle, and that whole area just doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone. The whole area for miles and miles has just been decimated.”

Several organizations and volunteers across the country have mobilized to provide relief supplies to the victims of the storm. Without people collecting donations, Callais said Louisiana residents would be in an even more dire situation.

“It’s about doing what you can,” Callais said. “Every day when your feet touch the ground, you can add positive energy to the world or you can add negative energy to the world. Just one person at a time, one act of kindness at a time, we can all literally change this world.”

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