For many, the holiday season serves as a reminder to be thankful for all the year has given them.
For others, however, the holidays are a stark reminder of the hardships faced during a difficult year as the Houma-Terrebonne region continues to struggle in the face of a slowdown in the oil-based economy.
An increasing number of residents in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes have had to turn to local organizations for basic necessities such as food, household items and even medicine.
The unemployment rate in the Houma-Thibodaux metropolitan area stood at 3.8 percent in April 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate has continued to rise. In November, the unemployment rate was 6 percent, as a result of a shrinking workforce and fewer people looking for work.
The worldwide oil glut has seen the Houma-Thibodaux area lose an estimated 11,000 jobs, and more people are seeking help.
“There has been an increase in clientele since the oilfield has been slower,” said Kristin LaFleur, manager of the Good Samaritan Food Bank in Thibodaux.
The food bank, one of four in the Terrebonne and Lafourche area operated by the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, provides food and household items to families in crisis, according to its website. In 2015, The Thibodaux Food Bank provided assistance to 1,740 families, representing 3,195 individuals.
LaFleur said those numbers have increased in 2016 and people don’t realize how many in the community are struggling.
“There is no typical client these days,” LaFleur said. “We’ve seen everything from the person who had a well-paying job and got laid off to the homeless person who has nothing. We try to do the best we can and help all of them the best we can.”
For years, parishioners in the Houma area took it upon themselves to help satisfy another need in the community, providing needed medications to those whose financial difficulties had left them to choose between buying the medications they needed or other necessities such as food.
Dr. William Walsh, a retired dentist, thought there was better way to address that need. Taking inspiration from a similar organization in Baton Rouge, the St. Vincent De Paul Tri Parish Pharmacy was born.
About 18 months later, the pharmacy was licensed by the State Board of Pharmacy, registered as a 501(c) organization able to take donations and staffed entirely by volunteers. More than 15 years later, the organization still provides free medication to clients who do not have Medicaid, veteran’s benefits or prescription insurance.
Walsh said the majority of the medications the pharmacy receives come from nursing homes. Medications the nursing homes were once throwing away, due to patients dying or medications changing, are now being used for those in need. The organization also spends $8,000 to $12,000 a year supplementing those medications from the nursing homes.
Walsh said the pharmacy is always looking for volunteers.
“We need people who are willing to go to the nursing homes and pick up medicines when they call,” Walsh said. “We can only accept it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It all has to come through when the pharmacists are here. It’s an important part of this operation.”
Organizations such as the Good Samaritan Food Bank and the St. Vincent De Paul Tri Parish Pharmacy rely on donations and money from grants to continue providing valuable services. The Bayou Community Foundation seeks to help organizations like those continue to thrive.
BCF coordinator Jennifer Armand said the organization exists to make the Lafourche, Terrebonne and Grand Isle communities stronger by giving residents the opportunity to address some of the most critical needs, such as human services, education, workforce development and coastal restoration.
“BCF doesn’t help people directly,” Armand said. “We help the nonprofits who do help people do it a little bit better.”
For four years, BCF has run a grant program for nonprofits in Lafourche, Terrebonne and Grand Isle. Armand said 2016 saw a tremendous increase in the number of applications from nonprofits, the amount of money requested and the number of critical programs they were requesting help for.
“I think that’s indicative of a couple of things,” Armand said. “Obviously the economy and the needs in our area have grown. I think it also shows the impact BCF is making in our community has grown. More nonprofits recognize the help that we can provide, and more donors have recognized the help BCF provides so they have increased their gift to us.”
In January 2013, the foundation conducted a community needs assessment. Armand said the organization was surprised to find out mental health care was a primary need of the community and that has only increased during the economic downturn.
“One of our grantees in south Lafourche, in their grant application, they cited people out of work who had not faced that before, being the critical issue, as well as their families having to deal with unemployment in the home,” Armand said.
For information on the Good Samaritan Food Bank, visit
https://htdiocese.org/food-banks. For information on the St. Vincent De Paul Tri Parish Pharmacy, visit http://svdphouma.com/special-works/pharmacy/. For information on the Bayou Community Foundation, visit https://www.bayoucf.org/.