By Andrew Lopez, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
August 20, 2016
Dear Baton Rouge,
On Sunday, 4,000 people who were seeking shelter from the rising floodwaters in your city ascended upon Celtic Studios.
The movie studio-turned-safe haven is privately run but decided to open its doors to people who needed a place to stay, and quickly filled up.
At the same time, Louisiana state troopers, Baton Rouge police officers, members of the United State Air Force and civilians also headed to Celtic Studios to help out.
When night fell on Sunday, close to 2,500 people were sleeping in various locations.
It could have been a mix for disaster – especially considering the tensions between Baton Rouge police officers and its citizens over the last month.
But instead, something different happened.
According to one long-time military personnel member, who requested anonymity, the operation at Celtic Studios was the best he'd ever seen.
Volunteers and donations poured in by the truck load – so much so that Celtic Studios had to ask people on Twitter on Tuesday to stop bringing things in and instead had to send out specific requests for certain donations after that.
I went to Celtic Studios on Thursday afternoon to cover some members of LSU's football team visiting with those living in the new shelter.
Les Miles said as he walked around, the most prevalent tag he saw on anyone's shirt was "volunteer" and he was happy to see what he did in the team's short time there.
"I can tell you what you find here, you find a great number of donations and a lot of volunteers," Miles said during the visit to Celtic Studios on Thursday. "Our guys came out and had fun and smiled and wished them well. It was a great visit."
And it wasn't just a great visit for the players – it was a great and much-needed visit for many of the people living at Celtic Studios this week, as well.
Patrick Mulhearn, the Executive Director of Celtic Studios, told stories about how the LSU players created smiles on faces that he just hadn't seen all week.
"I walked through that stage yesterday and there was a woman who was screaming and crying so hard they had to bring social workers in to try and calm her down," Mulhearn said. "Today, I saw kids who were sitting around coloring jump up from their table and scream at the top of their lungs and run towards the team. I saw young teenage boys who found a football somewhere running to see if they could get an autograph."
The smiles weren't just limited to those seeking autographs.
Some people just wanted to take pictures with the players. Some just wanted to shake their hands. Some people just wanted to see Leonard Fournette.
Count Mulhearn among that last group.
"I've met Tom Cruise here," Mulhearn said. "We've had some pretty big stars here. Rihanna, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt have been here on the lot. But nothing is cooler to me than having Leonard Fournette."
While LSU players – Fournette included – brought out smiles and joy among the people, there were already stories floating throughout the complex of good deeds.
Like the one about the deaf girl who went to the shelter with her family but quickly attached to another family in the stage she was living that also knew American Sign Language.
Or there was the story about the little kid who saw a medical emergency earlier in the week and was traumatized. On Thursday, the kid couldn't stop smiling as he was given a little doctor outfit and a toy doctor kit.
Or the multiple stories about how people in the shelter were brought to tears about the amount of volunteers – medical and non-medical – that stayed for hours upon end and came back day after day after day.
The stories were heartwarming. And it reminded me of something.
Before moving to Baton Rouge, I was a lifelong New Orleans resident – minus those pesky four months I had to live in Houston after Hurricane Katrina.
What I've seen in the last week or so has brought back a lot of those Katrina memories. Driving down roads and seeing piles and piles of trash outside. Seeing water marks along houses and businesses. Frankly, those are memories I didn't want to have to relive. But I did.
And I must say ... I'm proud to be living in this city.
Proud to be living amongst people – of all races and religions – who were so readily available to help one another not just initially but again and again and again.
So from stars as big as Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams and Les Miles to the thousands of nameless volunteers throughout southeastern Louisiana who have stepped up at this time of crisis, thank you.
A proud new Baton Rouge Resident