As a New Orleans-based company, Trashy Diva is no stranger to the harrowing process of recovering from a disaster. This personal knowledge has spurred us to find as many ways as possible to help our neighbors, who are in the midst of rebuilding their lives following an unexpected tragedy.
In August of 2016, the greater Baton Rouge and Acadiana areas of Louisiana received a historic and staggering amount of rainfall, resulting in widespread and intense flooding. 13 people lost their lives in what is being called a “500-year flood” by weather experts. Nearly 150,000 homes were damaged across 20 parishes (the Louisiana equivalent of counties) and 30,000 people had to be rescued from the rapidly rising waters.
Among those personally affected by the flooding were many of Trashy Diva’s most loyal customers. We have witnessed their struggle to cope with the damage as well as the steps they’ve taken to support and encourage each other. Today’s blog will introduce you to three of those amazing ladies: Nikki, Bitta & Aubry.
Nikki is a deputy at the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department who has been shopping with us since 2012. She points to the TD fan base as a huge source of regular support. “The friends I have made through this group because of these beautiful dresses have become my tribe,” she said. “I love knowing I can drive down to New Orleans any given weekend and have someone that would meet me to shop, eat, and offer me a place to stay. It’s like having a second family.” Nikki’s home was thankfully spared any serious damage in the flood, but her parents weren’t so lucky. “They got nearly four feet of water in their home. They’ve lost probably 80% of their belongings and are looking at the possibility that they may have to completely tear down their home,” she said. “My heart is broken for them with my Dad nearing retirement and both he and my Mom having health issues.” Nikki has been moving at a breakneck pace, assisting her parents and extended family members with flood remediation as well as volunteering with her church to help other community members facing the uphill battle of recovery. In addition to the flooding, her uncle was one of the officers injured in the attack on law enforcement in July and was in the process of recovering when the storms hit, so Nikki’s family has endured an especially rough few months and her tireless support has been so vital to their continued strength.
Bitta is a paramedic with Acadian Ambulance Service and has been a Trashy Diva customer since 2014. Like Nikki, she was drawn to the warmth and positivity of the TD community. “I absolutely love the other Trashy Diva fans. The Divas are so welcoming and uplifting,” she said. “I love to see camaraderie between all the ladies. It’s amazing what a love for these dresses can start.” Having worked in emergency response fields for 17 years (she began her career as a volunteer firefighter in 1999), Bitta is well versed in facing tragedy head-on, but upon walking into her parents home for the first time following the flood, she was overtaken by emotion. “The smell sent me right back to Hurricane Katrina–that horrible mold, mildew and just plain funk smell. It’s not one that is easily forgotten,” she said. “The damage is very reminiscent of Katrina; people’s lives were no longer in their homes, but out in their yards for the garbage man to collect. Everything they owned was now garbage.” Bitta initially fought feelings of helplessness and despair, but turned inward to her paramedical training to find the strength to support her family. “We are trained on how to handle certain situations and my instinct was to treat it like a Mass Casualty Incident,” she said. “You start where you stand, so I started cleaning where I stood.” With the help of caring friends and neighbors, Bitta’s family is on the way to finding a new normal, but it hasn’t been easy. “My parents have handled this situation with grace and elegance. In this tragedy I learned that you can go through a host of emotions, but it’s how you handle the situation that makes the difference,” she said.
Aubry (who you may recognize as the cover model from our Ruffled Feathers collection!) is currently a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology and Geography at LSU and she has been shopping with us since 2006. She came to see shopping with us, at first, as an escape from the reality of post-Katrina life in New Orleans, but over the years she has gotten to know many of the staff and fans on a personal level. “I’ve come to realize that behind the pretty dresses, collectively, we are a pretty kick-ass bunch of empowered and empowering ladies,” she said. “ I find it so inspiring to be part of a group of women that is both accepting and supportive of the success and beauty of other women.” While Aubry’s own home was not affected by the flooding, it has heavily impacted both her personal and professional life. “My doctoral research is in Disaster Planning and Preparedness strategies and their efficacy, so my work life just got a whole lot more complicated,” she said. “Personally, many of my friends and their families also lost their homes, so I’ve been out on all my days off trying to spend at least a little bit of time supporting them by helping to gut houses and letting them know that they have friends who care.” Aubry has actually been a huge help to both Nikki and Bitta’s families, showing the strong support systems that have developed within the Trashy Diva fanbase. “I’m honored to be given the opportunity to grow our friendships and show support,” she said.
These ladies are just a few of the divas working hard to help their friends and families recover from what is being called the most catastrophic natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy. There is much work to be done and many ways people can help, whether near or far. “I believe right now, support in rebuilding would be where the greatest efforts are needed. Being sure that people are getting all compromised materials out of their homes, getting them dry and treated for mold and then beginning the process of getting homes livable again,” said Nikki. Bitta concurs, “There are so many homes that still need to be gutted or rebuilt. A lot of people cannot afford to hire help or there isn’t enough help. Anyone who can swing a hammer, use a shovel, and push a wheelbarrow is needed.” Aubry also encourages anyone living in the region to spend a weekend volunteering. “You don’t have to give all your time, and every bit helps and is much appreciated,” she said. For those who simply cannot put boots on the ground to assist, the ladies recommend donations of gift cards and other targeted needs. “If you are far away, consider reaching out to those you know are helping and ask what you can do,” Aubry said. “I mentioned badly needing a wheelbarrow last week as there were none left on store shelves, and an amazing diva from Oklahoma, Robin, sent me one via Amazon. That wheelbarrow has since gone out with four different groups of volunteers to six different homes.”
As many shelters have reached capacity for item donations, we as a region turn to the future and consider how best to support people as they rebuild their lives. In an effort to do so, Trashy Diva is proud to introduce the Louisiana Love Brooch! All profits from the sale of these limited-edition brooches will go to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a local group whose mission is to “make South Louisiana and the world a little better each day.” They are working with a wide range of small local nonprofits to provide continued support and funding for the long and arduous process of recovery. We expect to have the brooches available in store around the beginning of October, but you can place your order online here and we’ll begin shipping as soon as we receive them! Please consider showing your love for Louisiana by buying a brooch and watching as the funds go directly to helping people just like Nikki, Bitta and Aubry, who are working hard to bring some sense of normalcy back to the lives of those they love. At Trashy Diva, we know that we are nothing without community. Please help us to support the amazing, resilient people who make up the Baton Rouge and Acadiana communities.