Simpson Étouffée: Building Back Stronger After Hurricane Ida
Right beside my computer sits my favorite children’s book, Stone Soup, a classic tale of isolated and lonely villagers who come out of their dark homes to work together around a huge iron pot to create a delicious soup that everyone can share and enjoy. Ultimately it describes a journey to discover what makes people happy. The story has been retold around the world for generations with various elements adapted to reflect local cultures and traditions. I get emotional every time I read it because the longing for deeper connections is so firmly embedded within all of us that I can’t help but get swept up in its heartfelt message. I also believe this longing is the source of our company value No. 8, Give Back, and why the value of contributing to our communities is so important for many employees at Simpson Strong-Tie.
On August 31, 2021, Hurricane Ida ripped through Louisiana. In mid-October, over six weeks later, homeowners were still feeling overwhelmed by the enormous task of rebuilding. Jackie Flemming, our McKinney Outreach Coordinator and Training Specialist, researched local organizations that were working to provide immediate help to those in need. Jackie got connected with a family who had lost not only their home, but their livelihood as well. The Loupe family has lived on the Louisiana Bayou for four generations — raising animals, hunting alligators and providing swamp tours to visitors from all over the world. Their business was already hurting from the pandemic, but after Hurricane Ida, it was completely decimated.
In a period of one month, Simpson sent three groups totaling 26 people to a small town in Louisiana to help the Loupe family with cleanup and rebuilding. Both crews were headed up by our local reps in the area — Senior Territory Manager Sid Montecino and Associate Dealer Rep Philip Brooks. Inside Sales Rep Marcus Niz was one of the first to volunteer.
Along with a few other guys, Marcus drove eight hours from Dallas to Thibodaux, LA. When they arrived, they noticed that every single home in the area had been destroyed, either by trees, by flying debris or by flooding swamp water. The damage to the community was incomprehensible.
The Loupe family didn’t have much to offer the group because the hurricane had destroyed much of what they had. But it was important to the family that they give back to the volunteers and be an active part of the process. So homeowner ZZ Loupe and his girlfriend Callie offered to cook for the volunteers and take them out on a swamp tour after the crew finished demoing the home and land.
Marcus is a father to six-year-old twin girls, so he knows how getting help from others is sometimes necessary but can also be the hardest thing to ask for. As soon as the team got to the affected area, Marcus knew their help was needed. The
As the work began, ZZ was noticeably quiet and not participating much — it was apparent he was still in shock and paralyzed by all the damage. But as more of the debris was cleared away and the subfloor in the kitchen was replaced, the homeowner started showing signs of renewed hope.
He became more chatty and asked questions. Marcus noticed that ZZ finally opened the doors to his car so the moisture inside could dry out. It was a seemingly simple gesture but one with huge significance, indicating his ability to accept what had happened and take steps toward rebuilding his life. Marcus estimated that if ZZ had to do all this work himself, it would have taken three months to do what the group did in a few days.
Marcus described his experience by saying he could never put a dollar amount on how rewarding it was to help this family. “It’s like a high you’ve never felt before, and it was so pure you forget about everything else going on in the world. It felt like joy — something we’ve lost access to at a fast rate during this chaotic time in the world.”
After the last day of work, ZZ, who also speaks a local Cajun dialect (and has an 80-year-old alligator living on his property), took the team out on his tour boat. He was excited to rev up the engine again for the first time in months. As the sun set over the debris–filled lake, ZZ spoke to the team about how he had never once had to ask anyone for help, yet he knew he couldn’t get through all this alone.
All of it (the hurricane and the destruction it left) left him feeling overwhelmed and depressed, and he just didn’t know where to start. But seeing so many complete strangers put their own lives on hold to come down and help him clean up and rebuild his life made him feel deeply honored and grateful.
Later, the group gathered outside around the large soup pot for the most delicious Cajun seafood étouffée that Marcus had ever eaten. The seafood stew, which had been simmering throughout the day, was finally ready, and the team was hungry! The steaming–hot étouffée was filled with local fresh shrimp and crawfish (and possibly alligator). ZZ, feeling hopeful again, let the volunteers know he considers them all family and they are welcome back any time.
Marcus emphatically encourages anyone who gets the opportunity to help someone in need to do so without hesitation. Remember how hard it can be for people who are in need to ask for help. If you would like to support ZZ Loupe and Zam’s Swamp tours, or if you’d like to sign up for a tour when the business is back in action, you can book a tour with them here and check out their Facebook page for updates.
To help the Loupes or other Ida survivors through the process of rebuilding their homes and their lives, a good nonprofit organization you can donate to is Reach Out Worldwide at www.roww.org. We’d like to send a heartfelt thanks to all the Simpson volunteers who have helped and continue to help communities rebuild after disasters!