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Hurricane Laura battered western portions of Louisiana, tearing apart structures, severing power lines and clogging streets with debris.

USA TODAY

BEAUREGARD PARISH, La. — It has been about a month since Hurricane Laura devastated Beauregard Parish and still people are unearthing damage. One elementary school teacher took matters into her own hands and inspired others to do the same.

Lillie Hickman Richard, a second-grade computer lab teacher, used her personal Facebook page to reach out for help. Within hours, other staff members joined her with their own social media messages and word of the destruction spread across the country.   

G. W. Carver Elementary, in DeRidder, is home to the second and third graders of the community. During Hurricane Laura, the roof of the school’s library was completely torn off, rolled back like a tin can, ruining the books, computers and iPads.

“The library was a total loss,” PJ Crowe, Vice Principal of Carver Elementary said. “The roof was completely gone, it rained directly onto everything we had in the library.” 

Crowe and the rest of the staff knew that the contents of the library would be replenished via insurance, but that wasn’t going to happen fast enough. The school needed books for the students to check out and read in the interim.

“We want their hands on the books, with their eyes on the page reading something tangible,” Crowe said explained. 

Crowe, along with other Carver staff members, took to their personal Facebook accounts to ask the community for book donations. 

On Sept. 22, Richard wrote on her Facebook page: “Our library at Carver was destroyed by hurricane Laura. We are accepting books in fair to good condition. If you are local you can drop them by the school. If you are not local but would like to donate PM me for address.” 

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That post has since been shared over 220 times. 

Crowe made a similar plea on her Facebook page: “The response to help refurbish Carver’s library has been overwhelming. We are definitely feeling the love and support from our community. I’ve heard from individuals from as far away as Hawaii and Massachusetts, and I’ve even heard from publishing companies who want to help.” 

She was touched by the unexpected response.

“I thought there would be a small response. Like, ‘Mrs. Crowe, can we donate a few books? I have some my kids aren’t reading anymore, can I donate them?’ We expected that. Never in a million years did we expect the outpouring of love and support from our community as well as nationwide,” Crowe said. 

One woman is driving from Massachusetts with 18 sets of books for Carver’s library.

An author based in Houston heard the school’s story and rallied her friends to help. “She posted on social media just amongst her friends, ‘Hey guys, they’ve lost everything. Let’s do a book drive,'” Crowe explained. “Yesterday, I made four trips from her vehicle; the entire back of her SUV was full of hardbound box sets of books.”

Brusly Upper Elementary in Baton Rouge donated $753. 

Crowe has received shipments from Hawaii, Georgia, and all around Louisiana.   

Carver Elementary made an Amazon wish list. Then another. And another

As the need for donations reached more people, Crowe and Deana Paul, Carver’s librarian, put together an Amazon wish list

“The list had probably 30 or 40 books on it at first. Later, a parent texted me and said ‘You might want to tell your librarian to redo her list, I just finished it off.’ So she [Paul] redid the list. She’s been doing it almost every day for the past five or six days. She’s been redoing her list because people are sending books like crazy.”

“We’ve had to make arrangements with our postal carrier, too. We’ve had to give him two personal phone numbers because his shipments are so big that he says that if it gets much bigger, he’s gonna have to make two trips. So instead, he comes on the weekends and calls us to meet him at the school to unload,” said Crowe. 

One Carver alumna met the request for help in a major way. Amy Burton Storey, now based in Georgia, reached out to her friends and colleagues in the book publishing industry to raise money for Carver. Storey raised about $5,000 for the school, which she will use to purchase books. 

Storey said her desire to help the school came from the love she had for the place. 

“I went to school at Carver, my mother and many of our lifelong friends taught at Carver for years. It’s a place that means a lot to me. I also know that my classmates and friends love DeRidder, love books, and want to help our community,” Storey said. 

By Wednesday, Carver Elementary had received approximately 2,000 books, bags of school supplies and about $1,300 in donations. 

For Crowe, and the rest of Carver’s staff, this experience has been heartening and humbling. 

“I knew our community was a close community and I’ve always known we’ve taken care of each other. I never expected them to do this to this magnitude, you know, and it just shows they love our kids and support our kids and reading,” she said. 

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