Cajun Navy offshoot launches crowdfunding site to help Louisiana flood victims

    An offshoot of the Cajun Navy—the group of Louisiana residents who took it upon themselves to rescue victims of last August’s flood with their own fishing boats—has rolled out an online crowdfunding platform to aid the protracted struggles of flood victims.

    Rob Gaudet, a software engineer who helped organize and direct the impromptu rescue efforts following the flood, designed CrowdRelief, a website that creates personal narratives for flood victims and matches them with online donors.

    The goal, he says, is to attract an influx of small donations to replace appliances, furniture and other household items that can fall through the cracks of government disaster relief.

    “It kind of hit me that this is going to be something a lot of folks are going to need,” Gaudet says. “The piles of stuff you saw on the side of the road … all of those things are going to need to be replaced.”

    CrowdRelief was one of the many startups showcased during last week’s New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. The site operates much like a traditional crowdfunding platform, where people donate money online to fulfill goals. But CrowdRelief, which is geared specifically toward disasters, goes a step further than GoFundMe or other similar sites, Gaudet says. Victims contact a call center in Lafayette and take a survey, then volunteers from Gaudet’s team of 11 visit their home, vet their needs and learn their story.

    Then, the volunteers, which include photographers and writers, create a narrative to publish online, in hopes of establishing a stronger connection between donors and flood victims, Gaudet says.
    “Stories are what gets people’s attention and what people relate to,” says Melissa Adair, a social media marketing expert and co-founder of CrowdRelief. “If we can convey that and the sense of loss and hopelessness that some of these people have been driven to because they’ve waited so long … maybe we can drive people to help their neighbors out.”

    Much in the same way the Cajun Navy augmented the official government rescue work in the hours and days following the flood, Gaudet and Adair see CrowdRelief as a supplement for existing relief efforts. The site became fully functional last week and so far features two families. Gaudet and Adair’s team are working on getting dozens more up in the coming weeks.

    While the Federal Emergency Management Agency disbursed some aid dollars in the months following the flood, the state is still waiting to spend the $1.6 billion in congressionally-approved relief. And, leaders have noted, even that is not nearly enough to make everyone whole.

    Adair hopes CrowdRelief becomes an enduring resource for future disasters as well. While traditional aid organizations raise far more money, CrowdRelief cuts out much of the overhead by leveraging technology, Adair says.

    “Citizens already have a vested interest in their own communities,” she says. “There’s little to no waste. They’re giving directly to their neighbors.”

    —Sam Karlin

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