Culture Aid NOLA Is Rethinking Disaster Response


It takes 84 hours to evacuate the city of New Orleans. That’s 84 hours of being absolutely sure that a storm is coming, that it’s hitting here, that the wind and the water are bad enough, and that the timing is correct. Forty-eight hours before she slammed into the Louisiana coast, Hurricane Ida was a tropical storm just west of Cuba. In the era of climate change-fueled hurricanes, we may not have the time to fully evacuate ever again. We need to rethink storm responses in this changing reality. We can no longer afford to be reactive—we need to be proactive. We need to trust each other.

Culture Aid NOLA, the no-barrier food resource of New Orleans, was founded on principles of dignity, hospitality, and grace. We believe that everyone deserves to eat good food, without hassle, stigma, paperwork, or means testing. We believe that families know best what they need, and we prioritize trusting our community, as we ask them to trust us in return. Our work since March 2020 has been impactful, serving over 2,464,431 pounds of food to over 2,000 families a month. When you come to Culture Aid NOLA, the first thing you’ll notice is DJ Siphne setting the mood. Then you’ll be warmly greeted and welcomed, and asked how many families you’d like to pick up for. We encourage taking care of each other, and we have many guests picking up for multiple households, building communities of care. You’ll roll through and receive as many grocery bags as you asked for, full of fresh healthy foods, no proof of need required, because no one should ever have to prove they’re poor enough to deserve to eat. We give our neighbors what they ask for, what they need, and we trust them to do what they think is best. We know that just because someone is cash limited doesn’t mean they need to be lectured, doubted, or shamed for asking for help when they need it.

Why can’t disaster response be like this? Why can’t we create a system where people get what they need before they’re desperate, where communities are empowered to take care of each other, where we trust that if given the right tools and supplies, New Orleanians will know what to do? Why do we have to wait around for someone to come save us, when we’re perfectly capable of saving ourselves?

We’re organizing July Supply, a summer hurricane preparedness event, to put resources directly into the hands of New Orleans families before something happens, so they don’t have to wait for the government response. Many in our community don’t have 72 hours of food and water on a good day, and they certainly can’t leave work to fight over the last case of water at Walmart on a moment’s notice. As we saw during Ida, resources can be slow to arrive and unevenly distributed around the city, leaving families with children or seniors unable to get to the supplies they need, let alone having systems that will get supplies to them. The best way to store life-saving hurricane supplies is not in a warehouse hours across a lake and several bridges away, it’s in people’s homes.

On July 16, Culture Aid NOLA will serve hurricane kits to 2,000 families from the GNO area. There are no requirements, no proof of need, no appointments or registration. We’ll open up the line at City Park’s Tad Gormley Stadium, and provide peace of mind for everyone we can, with several brass bands and DJs, of course. We are determined to create a new concept of community preparedness and resilience that prioritizes community care and trust, and centers autonomy. We’re giving real, useful supplies: food, water, buckets, baby wipes, trash bags, and more. Anyone who’s lived in South Louisiana before Ida knows what they need for a storm, and it’s not more pamphlets and brochures.

When a natural disaster strikes, some people will often ask, “Why don’t you just leave?” Evacuating is rarely ever that simple and is actually harder than usual, because of time, money, transportation, work, or medical needs. So, if you can’t front the gas and motel, and insurance won’t reimburse you unless it’s a mandatory evacuation (which can’t happen without 84 hours’ notice), and there’s no one else to help pay for it even if you could get out of town, and the stores are empty and you weren’t allowed to leave work early, and your cat doesn’t do well on long car rides, and you don’t know anyone in Houston anyways, and your elderly neighbor needs help, and your car wouldn’t even make it to Baton Rouge, and you didn’t know it would be this bad, and inflation prices mean every dollar goes a little less farther than it used to, come see us on July 16 at City Park. We’re going to flip the old disaster model upside down and take care of each other first.


Learn more and sign up to volunteer at cultureaidnola.org/julysupply.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson is the founder & executive director of Culture Aid NOLA


The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) is a broad-based coalition and registered 501c3 non-profit corporation that collaborates with, organizes, and empowers the New Orleans music and cultural community to preserve and nurture the city’s culture, to translate community vision into policy change, and to create positive economic impact.


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