EWE Spirit Grant Recipient Story:
When Hurricane Ian hit Florida in the fall of 2022, many residents had no other choice but to weather the storm at home. Wheelchair-bound, Gail rode it out in her RV. The storm destroyed the camper, flooding it with water. In the aftermath, the damage and ensuing mold made it uninhabitable. She moved into a leaky tent set up next to the camper.
Three months after the storm, a local nonprofit connected Gail with a Cajun Navy Ground Force volunteer and retired Marine, Camilo Andrade. Camilo helped her secure a tarp over the tent, both to protect her from rain and to provide shade in the hot Florida sun. The next day, he returned with an AmeriCorps team — which Gail described as “an utmost lovable bunch” — to construct an outside shower and privacy fencing for her. As Gail later texted Camilo, it was her “best day.”
The Cajun Navy Ground Force uses technology and systems management techniques to coordinate the efforts of thousands of volunteers before, during and after severe weather events. Since its founding in 2016, the nonprofit organization has responded to seven hurricanes, two floods, three tornadoes, one wildfire and one ice storm in Louisiana, Kentucky and Florida. Its response is multi-pronged:
Rescue Phase: The Cajun Navy Ground Force begins preparing before a storm even hits — assembling teams of volunteers both on the ground and on computers around the country. In the immediate aftermath, the computer dispatchers monitor social media channels — with nearly 267,000 followers — and, coordinating with the Coast Guard and other authorities, direct ground crews to survivors requiring rescue. They use the Zello walkie-talkie app and Google Earth to provide the individuals’ exact GPS coordinates (because street addresses are impossible to find when homes are under water). In the nonprofit’s first six years, these remote dispatchers mobilized 88 volunteer teams to respond to 983 requests for emergency assistance.
SAFE Camp Phase: After the storm passes, the Cajun Navy Ground Force sets up SAFE Camps — central locations for distributing supplies, medical care and other support — in the hardest-hit communities. Working with the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Operation Barbecue Relief, World Central Kitchen and other relief organizations, they quickly and efficiently distribute in-kind donations directly to people arriving in cars and indirectly through local nonprofits with deeper access into the community. They also help people find temporary housing through partners like AirBnB.
Since 2016, the Cajun Navy Ground Force’s SAFE Camps have served 130,000 hot meals and provided clean water, diapers and other supplies to 80,000 people.
Clean-up & Recovery Phase: In the weeks — and sometimes months — following natural disasters, the Cajun Navy Ground Force embeds in the most devastated communities, organizing teams to clean up debris, deliver food, tarp damaged roofs and help struggling individuals restore their daily routines. It uses case-management technology to identify and connect to these clients, who are most often the elderly, disabled, working poor, homeless and mentally ill.
“We can’t change the world,” says Camilo, “but we can change one person’s view of the world. And we’ve done that many times over.”
This is the kind of caring community support that Geoff offered friends and strangers alike. He’d be proud to know that EWE Spirit’s recent $10,000 grant will help the Cajun Navy Ground Force continue to effectively deploy bighearted, skilled volunteers in times of crisis.