Paying it Forward to the Delta
by: Reagan Lauritzen
The last time Sal Balsamo visited the area near Rolling Fork, Mississippi was approximately two years ago. Balsamo had traveled to Warren County frequently within the last decade to visit his aunt and her family. During his visits, he became familiar with the region and its culture. When he witnessed the devastating tornado that hit Rolling Fork on March 24, the New Orleans native was heartbroken to think that the area he had grown to appreciate in the Mississippi Delta was suffering.
Balsamo, a junior at Willow High School in New Orleans, thought about how he might be able to help those recovering from the disaster. He met with his principal and proposed a drive for supplies, including bottled water, toiletries, canned goods, non-perishable food, and baby supplies. He placed boxes to collect the supplies at all Willow School campuses, including the elementary, middle school, and high school.
The Willow School, formerly Lusher Charter School, is a Kindergarten through 12th-grade New Orleans Public Charter School located in uptown New Orleans. According to the school’s website, the Willow School is ranked the #1 K-12 public school in Louisiana. In addition to the school’s academic prowess, the Willow School administration and educators focus on instilling a sense of purpose and community in their students. The school’s mission statement focuses on enabling “each child to achieve as a learner, a person, and a valuable member of our society.”
“The staff, students, and parents of the Willow School, New Orleans, are grateful for the opportunity to assist other families and communities in need,” said Robert Hill, Willow School high school principal. “We all hope for the best for the residents of Rolling Fork.”
Jan Rice, principal of the elementary Willow School, explained that it is not abnormal for the Willow School community to rally together to provide support to those in need.
“Once again, our community has generously donated much-needed supplies for Mississippi Tornado Relief. Rolling Fork will be pleased to receive these donations,” said Rice. “Thanks to junior Sal Balsamo for organizing this project. Way to exemplify Project Pride!”
After only one week of collecting supplies at Willow School campuses, Balsamo culled the donations, which amounted to nearly 3,000 pounds of supplies, and traveled to Rolling Fork on April 29. He initially anticipated being able to transfer the donations in his vehicle, but the outpouring of support from the Willow community was so substantial that he had to work with his parents to rent a U-haul to drive the donations to Rolling Fork.
“When I initially met with the principal and sent out flyers to the three different Willow campuses to drive participation, I never would have thought that it would have resulted in such an outcry of support,” said Balsamo. “I’m truly humbled by this experience. I’ve witnessed incredible kindness from so many to help those in need across state lines, and it’s something that I’ll never forget.”
Cindy Love, the Director of Distributions for the Emergency Management Office (Homeland Security) for Sharkey County, Mississippi, accepted the goods from Balsamo upon his arrival in Rolling Fork. Love, a native of Houston, Texas, recalls her experience arriving in the region only two days after the tornado pummeled the town.
“I witnessed all the trees were down, homes destroyed, and total devastation for this community,” said Love. “Sharkey County has done a great job cleaning up much of the debris and materials from the tornadoes, but there is still a lot to be done.”
She emphasized the significant role the community has played in helping the victims of the disaster find solace amongst the rubble and pave their way to recovery. Love mentioned that contributions like those from the Willow School have made a huge impact.
She said, “I am very thankful for all of the donations as many residents remain in hotels and have not been able to return to the area.”
Balsamo noted that while he certainly appreciates the gratitude expressed by others for his actions, his real hope is that he can share the experience with others to drive more interest in recovery efforts in the region.
“The damage was like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said Balsamo. “The road to recovery for the people of Rolling Fork will be long and hard. I encourage others in the region to find ways to continue providing aid to those in the community.”See a typo? Report it here.