How A Foundation Helped Louisiana Recover From Hurricane Katrina

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, donations poured into the governor’s office. Kathleen Blanco, the governor at the time, brought together experts in nonprofits, philanthropy, and disaster relief to create the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation now known as the Foundation for Louisiana. The plan was to provide immediate aid and partner on public policy.

For seven years, the foundation brought more than $45 million in grants to about 250 nonprofits across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

“All the things that we’ve sort of laid bare to the world watching the news and seeing this unfold in front of our eyes were challenges of structural racism, gender bias and all the things you can think of,” said Flozell Daniels, Foundation for Louisiana president and CEO. “And so we really wanted to build, not just the debt disaster recovery strategy, but a deep equity that would allow us to create better communities than we had before Katrina.”

News of Katrina highlighted the inequity that existed in Louisiana to the forefront of the American mind. However, once immediate disaster relief needs were met, the foundation grew to make sure that inequity didn’t become a permanent fixture in the rebuilding of the state. Daniels said the idea was that all Louisianans have, by birthright, an opportunity to be well, strong, mitigate inequitable systems and experience freedom. The foundation promotes the idea by providing grantmaking, community investment funds and fiscal sponsorships.

One of the recent community investments funds went to a food hub in New Orleans. The foundation collected $500,000 and helped find other finance sources to create Bargain Refresh, Broad Community Connections Refresh Project and a community resource plan that works with businesses that source food from local people. A community that once lacked access to fresh food now has affordable and locally sourced food providers, in addition to health educational services and job training.

Financial support from major institutions and individuals alike power the work of the foundation. It relies on donors that are invested in justice and equity, like the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, Kellogg and Ford.

“We are in service to donors who decide it makes sense for us to invest in the staff who actually do the work and in people who can profit from it,” said Daniels.

Daniels refers to his job as the work of his lifetime. When the foundation was searching for a new CEO, they wanted to hire someone from their target community who understood New Orleans and Louisiana. Daniels was the right fit.

He was born in New Orleans and raised by a single mother. He looks back at his schools, neighborhood and public programs as the village that helped raise him. He went on to experience New Orleans in a variety of ways, most significantly in the mayor’s office under urban policy.

“Nothing could compare to this opportunity to actually make a contribution back into a community that raised me,” he said.

He sees the foundation as a way to duplicate the investment people put into his upbringing into a city he considers magical.

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