“One thing is a constant for Forrest County … when there is an emergency declaration close by, we’re going to see if we can help,” said Chris Bowen, who serves as District 5 supervisor for the county.
Unknown to many outside of his circle, Bowen led a small relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Laura’s disastrous landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 27. He utilized his vast network of contacts to pull together needed supplies and equipment just days after the storm.
“Whatever we attempted, somebody over there needed help now. If we could pull it off, it also needed to be completed in one day – no staying. They needed supplies, not extra mouths to feed,” he said.
Connie Rockco, a Harrison County Supervisor and fellow member of the Environment, Energy and Land Use Steering Committee of the National Association of County Officials, connected Bowen with Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nunguesser.
The lieutenant governor then directed Bowen to Gene Mills, president of Louisiana Family Forum, who was helping direct relief efforts, and LFF quickly identified an urgent need for supplies in Allen Parish.
The Forrest County Board of Supervisors authorized Bowen to use county equipment, specifically the trailer for the sheriff’s office, to haul donated supplies.
“Sheriff Charlie Sims quickly agreed to meet me on that Saturday afternoon in order to hook up the trailer and make sure its light kit was working,” said Bowen. “I didn’t even have to ask, and he donated all he had in his wallet.”
Bowen then put out a call on his personal Facebook page for donations and manpower.
Corner Market in midtown Hattiesburg was the first to respond with a pallet of Dasani water. One of Bowen’s friends from Covington County responded next with purchases of nonperishable groceries, full gas cans and additional funds to buy lanterns, batteries and more cans of gas.
John Weathersby, a longtime friend of Bowen’s, then agreed to travel with him to deliver everything on Aug. 30.
“(Weathersby) showed up with more gas cans and ice chests in hand,” said Bowen. “We headed out to the service station to fill them, and we filled the coolers with 30 bags of ice.”
The two men dropped most of the supplies in Oakdale and took the ice to the Town of Elizabeth at the suggestion of Oakdale Judge Judi Abrusley, who originally petitioned the lieutenant governor and LFF for aid.
Bowen described the Louisiana scenes as devastating with long lines of people trying to get food, charge phones and locate supplies.
“What we experienced was reminiscent of our post-Katrina world – people helping people, a love that brings a tear to the eye,” he added. “In the end, John and I had received more than we had given. My heart now full, (Supervisor Rod Woullard of Forrest County) called me on Monday and delivered the quote of this whirlwind effort, ‘they just needed to know that they weren’t alone.’”