Westmoreland natives work to assist those still effected by Hurricane Laura

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Major Matthew Boise and wife Jodi had just moved from Fort Drum to Fort Polk in Louisiana with their young family when their community was struck hard by Hurricane Laura.

The Westmoreland natives left Watertown just after the July 4 holiday, and hadn’t gotten into their new house at the Louisiana Army base until the beginning of August. Just a couple weeks later, Hurricane Laura made its way to the Southern coast. The Category 4 Atlantic hurricane would be at near peak intensity while nearing Southwestern Louisiana on Aug. 26, with the highest winds reaching approximately 150 mph.

With several area homes, businesses and even schools destroyed, in the aftermath, the Boises have stepped up to help their new neighbors by collecting some much-needed supplies.

Being a military family, the Boises had already been through their share of challenges. Jodi Boise recalled when moving to Washington, having gone through a severe ice storm that left them and nearby residents without power for a time. But the intense summer heat of the Gulf Coast has presented obstacles in and of itself.

“Personally, I prefer” and am more used to “the snow and colder weather. You can always get warmer. But with this intense heat, you can’t cool off,” Jodi explained. “It’s definitely been harder for me, and I can’t imagine other people who are still without power. We’ve had heat indexes over 100 degrees and with no power, people don’t have a way to cool down. It’s been quite the challenge, and many people continue to deal with that."

Fort Polk is located in Vernon Parish in West-Central Louisiana, better known as "The Crossroads," about 60 miles from Alexandria, and 66 miles from Lake Charles. Early on Aug. 27, Laura made landfall near peak intensity on Cameron, La. It was the 10th strongest U.S. hurricane landfall by wind speed on record. The storm caused the deaths of at least 34 people in the U.S. and inflicted an estimated $8.7 billion in damage on southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico.

Jodi Boise said she and her family were fortunate — their home still stood and they got their power back on in about five days after Hurricane Laura. It’s the neighbors who are still without electricity, and are still struggling, that her family is trying to give back to and help support.

"We got our power back on after five days because we’re on the post — we were so lucky,” she said. “But there’s people in Lake Charles who still don’t have power. We just had this overwhelming feeling we were lucky, and we just wanted to help."

Through Facebook posts, Boise said, “We’ve just been asking friends and families to send down whatever they want to send. Diapers have been very popular — We’ve been getting newborn through pull-ups (5-T). We’ve also been asking for battery-operated fans and batteries to help cool people during the night or day. Charcoal, propane, D batteries, lights and non-perishable food items are also on the list and have been coming in. I just figured if I could just help one person and make it a little better for them, then that’s great."

Since the Boises hadn’t been down in Louisiana for long, Jodi said social media has been great at getting the word out about their community’s needs, when there is internet service available. She commends the locals who also tried to assist them before the hurricane struck, having never experienced such a severe storm.

"Those down here, who had been through this before, helped by trying to warn all of us. They said this storm would be the same thing as Rita, so they gave really good advice,” said Jodi. "We started collecting milk jugs and Tupperware that I was told to stick in the freezer. Then when we lost power, I was able to put some food in those containers and then into the refrigerator, and then they would still keep the food cold. But there’s some people who lost all their food."

"Some people didn’t even prepare that much,” she continued. “I’m thankful for the locals and all who were trying to prepare, but we didn’t even prepare for this as much as we should have. We expected to be without power for a couple days, but nothing like this."

Boise said there are different organizations throughout the Vernon Parish area who are trying to assist residents. Some are giving out water and ice, while others are giving away food or are providing hot meals to those in need.

"I got some monetary donations and they will go to feeding the linemen and people who don’t have a home — some houses have been completely destroyed, or some people still don’t have power. People down here were just recovering from COVID-19 and then the hurricane hit,” she said. "They were suppose to open school on Aug. 3, and then they pushed school opening back to Aug. 31. Some people don’t have jobs and for them, it’s just a double-whammy. It’s just crazy to be in the thick of things compared to seeing it on TV or in the newspaper. Our cell service is still in-and-out. Every day I’ve been posting pictures on Facebook on our group page, and sometimes Fort Polk people are trying to message me because they need to pick up items, but I can't get on” because of no service.

As for children at least partially returning to school, Boise said county officials are meeting soon to discuss their strategy. Some schools in the area were damaged, while others had their entire roofs blown off, she said. There’s the option of going to virtual learning, but for those in the community still without power and internet service, it’s not feasible.

But overall, Boise said the neighborhood kids have been adjusting well to the circumstances and are even pitching in to help in their own way.

“My own kids have been so fluid with everything — military kids are just so resilient,” Boise said. “It definitely helps, being in a military community, with a lot of kids around. After we were out of the woods with the storm, so many kids came out and started raking leaves and helped clean-up the debris."

The Boises continue to collect monetary donations and supplies. While others are staying in hotels or with family members, Boise said some don’t have the means to do so, and those are the people they are trying to assist. They also continue to collect baby formula, diapers of all sizes, charcoal, water, batteries and other essentials. For more information, find Jodi Boise on Facebook.

Anyone living local who would like to help out the Boises, can contact Jackie Boise at 315-527-6234 and leave a message.

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