Thousands of people were affected by the Great Flood of 2016, leaving many without homes, personal belongings or school clothes for their children. St. Amant Fire Chief James LeBlanc created a project to give children in Ascension Parish who were affected by the August flood a sweatshirt to stay warm for the winter.
The Ascension Sweatshirt Project was an idea that started nearly a month ago when LeBlanc and St. Amant Middle School Principal Christy Bourgeois found out that roughly 30 children at the school did not have the means to receive a sweatshirt, as most of their belongings had been destroyed.
"A sweatshirt is not on the agenda," LeBlanc said. "When you flood and you lose everything you own, the last thing you are thinking about is buying a sweatshirt."
The Ascension Constable said he planned to bring the children sweatshirts, but was informed that many other students in the area were in need as well. He contacted the Ascension Parish School Board to find out how many students at St. Amant Primary, St. Amant Middle, Galvez Primary, Galvez Middle, Lake Primary and Lake Middle were also affected.
The school board reached out to the six affected schools, and LeBlanc said he was not prepared for what he heard. In the impacted schools, 3,391 children were without school sweatshirts.
"This thing blossomed into one of the biggest projects you could ever think of. When it started out it wasn't going to be that way. It was just going to be James LeBlanc from the Constable's Office is going to go buy 25 sweatshirts and bring it to St. Amant Middle School and then the project is going to be over with. I was already committed to the project - once I'm committed to the project, I am going to finish it."
Upon hearing the massive need for sweatshirts, LeBlanc shared a post to his Facebook page asking for donations and sponsors to help with the project, as it grew from a $100 project to a $16,000 project in a matter of days.
"People just started coming out of the woodworks. This is a large community effort from a lot of people. One thing that I know about Ascension Parish, when you start talking about taking care of kids, everyone wants to get on board."
Some of the contributors to the cause was Volunteer Ascension, BASF, Eatel, Glenn Dorsey - a former East Ascension High School football player who plays for the 49ers, and dozens of individual members not only from Ascension Parish, but others parishes and out of state residents as well.
"It's just amazing how many parents that I don't know, how many kids that I don't know, that have been coming up to me in the last two weeks saying you are not even going to believe how you impacted my child's life when he came home today with a brand new sweatshirt. You wouldn't think that a sweatshirt would affect a child so much."
Now that the sweatshirts have been distributed to elementary and middle school students, LeBlanc said he is working on a way to raise funds to help the 2,300 high school students from St. Amant High and East Ascension High School who were affected as well.
The $16,000 for the first phase of the project has not yet been met, though organizers are almost very close to meeting the goal.
"In my 30 year career as a fire chief, it turned out to be one of the best, heartwarming projects that I have ever been involved in, and I have been involved in a lot of them," LeBlanc said. "Our hearts are completely shattered, but our faith is still strong."