When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana coast and decimated whatever was in its path, everything changed. Streets became rivers, homes were washed away, and more than 1,000 people lost their lives. The way groups responded to disasters changed everywhere, too, and that included Convoy of Hope.
As Katrina gained intensity in the Gulf of Mexico, it was clear that the storm would be bad. But no one expected the wide-reaching damage Katrina would inflict. The morning after the hurricane made landfall, Convoy of Hope team members arrived at headquarters to find every phone ringing off their hooks. Convoy was a much smaller organization in 2005, with a team of only 50 people. It was clear that this response was an “all hands on deck” situation.
Families and friends of team members arrived to help, and phone banks were set up on folding tables in every available space. Volunteers answered phone calls all day, every day, for weeks. Calls came in from volunteers, donors, people needing help, churches asking for assistance, and even those in search of lost relatives. The answering machine crashed immediately, leading people to take messages on paper and run them around the building to the right person.
Team members from across departments were deployed to Mississippi and Louisiana to assist Convoy’s two-person Disaster Services team. Before this time, Convoy had never set up more than one point of distribution (POD) at a time. For this response, there were several scattered throughout Louisiana and Mississippi.
This response changed Convoy of Hope in fundamental ways. Systematically, Convoy of Hope was recreated. Long-time Convoy team member, Randy Rich, reflected on a time during the response when the team took a moment from the hustle and bustle. “We sat down and reinvented Convoy on a whiteboard,” he said. “The team updated processes for disaster response and developed additional roles that new staff or volunteers would fill.”
As Convoy’s disaster response team grew, so did the ability to help others. The response to Hurricane Katrina lasted for two years, with nearly 1,000 truckloads of relief supplies delivered and distributed to families in need. For the next four years, Convoy held Community Events across the Gulf Coast, specifically helping areas affected by Katrina.
In 25 years of existence, Convoy of Hope has responded to more than 400 disasters around the world. The people Convoy has met and the lessons learned during Katrina redefined the way team members would respond to disasters in the future.
The one thing that has never changed throughout the years is the incredible importance of kindness and support from people like you. Convoy couldn’t have served so many without the thousands of phone calls, mass amounts of volunteers, and incredible donors that saw those in need and offered help.