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Students lend a helping hand to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

By Larshell Green
On August 31, 2017

Caleb Kerstens
Courtesy of Gabrielle Bernard

It is not unusual for college students to take road trips to escape the stress of classes. However, senior political science major Caleb Kerstens is rounding up friends and supplies to take a meaningful road trip in order to aid devastated citizens of Houston, Texas.

After Hurricane Harvey was deemed to have Category 4 magnitude on Aug. 25, Kerstens noticed a shocking pattern on social media.

“I saw a report that people were charging $90 for a case of water,” said Kerstens. “That’s outrageous, and it’s exploitive. I feel like something needs to be done, so instead of sitting here feeling sorry for people, I’d like to try to help them.”

Kerstens further explains why the trip is so imperative at this stage of the hurricane.

“We’re trying to raise donations and supplies, specifically water,” said Kerstens. “That’s my main concern after seeing the price gouging that was going on in Houston. After this natural disaster, seeing how people are being exploited over a natural resource like water, I really felt the need to try to bring as much water as we can carry to the people in Houston.”

Although Kerstens has knowledge of Louisiana’s natural disasters, he remains grateful that he has never been personally affected.

“Thankfully, I can say that I’ve never been a serious victim of a natural disaster,” said Kerstens. “During Katrina, I lived in Denham Springs. It was kind of rough, and during the flood last year, I was lucky enough to be in the one percent of the population that didn’t flood. My dad did have some rental properties that flooded, and we had to deal with that devastation. Our family home didn’t suffer any damage, but it was nerve-wracking because I wasn’t even in the area. We were in New York with my little brother because he was getting accepted into West Point.”

According to Kerstens, he felt more motivated to bring his mission to fruition after noticing how great the impact of Hurricane Harvey was.

Kerstens said, “It’s important to help people in their times of need. Texas is our next door neighbor, and a lot of people from Texas helped during the floods last year in Louisiana. Even if there hadn’t been anybody from Texas that helped with floods in Louisiana, it’s not a justification for it. It’s just people who need someone to come to their aid, and with the population of Houston being 5 million people, what we’re seeing in Houston, I hate to say that one instance is worse than another, but the sheer number of people affected by this disaster is overwhelming, and every bit of help and aid that those people can get in their desperate time of need. I’d like to be able to provide in any that I can, as much as I can.”

The mission began for Kerstens after learning that a friend would be traveling to Houston and staying with a family member to be of assistance. He explains how the participants for the trip grew.

“We went from me and him to five people that are going, and we got two trailers that we are holding down with as much supplies as we can gather,” said Kerstens. “One of my friends is a student at LSU in biology and chemistry. His name is Kyle Blackburn. Another friend of ours that was a student at Southeastern, I don’t know if he is any longer or not, but his name is Dylan McClendon, a former LSU volleyball player is coming with us, and a friend of our father is going to be coming as well.”

Kerstens and his friends planned to head to Houston on the night of Thursday, Aug. 31 and return on the night of Monday, Sept. 5. Although the goal of this trip is to help the citizens of Houston, he is prepared to make a local impact.

“We’re concerned with not only the people in Houston and how they’re being affected by it, but we’re going to be going through Lake Charles on Thursday night,” said Kerstens. “With the projections of what can happen there, we may have a situation down there that needs aid. We’re going to help as many people along the way that need help wherever they need it.”

Promotions for donations have been made on the participants’ Facebook pages. Kerstens welcomes those interested to contact him on his cellphone at 225-485-2750.

“Anything that anybody would like to support in any shape, form or any contribution that they want to make, be it a donation of supplies, or help with rebuilding will be appreciated,” said Kerstens.

Kerstens has contacted local organizations and churches in order to increase donations and has received monetary donations for supplies. He encourages those who wish to help to do their research before traveling to Houston and to lend a helping hand, no matter how large or small.

Kerstens explains, “People will need help in the rebuilding process, or the cleanup process after the flood waters subside. I saw a link that says that you need to reach out to the Houston PD for direction if you’d like to try to get involved in any rescue efforts so they can tell you where people are stranded and where they need the help. We don’t really know what we’re getting into at this point. We’re just going to go and do what we can.”

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