March 10, 2022
“The stars and God—that’s all we got”
Abraham Parfait is a bayou man through and through. A resident of Dulac, Louisiana, stories spilled out of him, drifting into the ears of the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and Storm Aid volunteers building his new house.
“I’ve got two boys, three and 10,” he said. “I’m 50 years old. I’m on disability,” he explained.
Just as he and his wife put their nest egg into a new home, Hurricane Ida took everything, slamming through Dulac in August 2020 as a Category 4 storm.
“We lost everything,” said Parfait. “My wife even lost all her baby pictures.”
Then he contracted COVID-19, spending more than a week in the hospital.
When he finally felt well enough to clean up his damaged home, a cold snap brought subfreezing temperatures.
“We spent some time living in a tent with the kids,” said Parfait. “I mean, bad after bad after bad. Every step we took, it was like getting pushed back again. If there wasn’t bad luck—there was no luck.”
His oldest son began to feel anxious and had trouble sleeping.
“I finally took my son out on the road here,” he said, pointing to the dirt road leading up his house. “In case you haven’t noticed, it’s dark out here on the bayou! I told him, ‘Look, son, all we got is God and the stars. The rest of it—is just stuff.”
All around him is evidence his luck has changed as volunteers constructed an elevated 1,150-square-foot home for Parfait and his family.
As the group—all from the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania area—painted the exterior, Parfait sang their praises. “They are amazing workers,” he said. “You don’t have to babysit them.”
Most of the volunteers were under 25, and many were first-time volunteers who rode a bus for more than 20 hours to come help in the bayou.
“This is actually my fourth trip to volunteer. I enjoy the adventure, the atmosphere—and the attitude.”
— Mary Zook, MDS Volunteer from Lancaster County, PA
Project Coordinator Eli Stoltzfus said he believes there will be plenty of work for volunteers in Dulac for months to come.
“If you go down the road, there’s so much damage,” he said, adding that he sees what a life-changing experience volunteering can be for a young person.
“Oftentimes they want to come again—or stay longer,” he said.
Building materials for the project were funded through support from the Bayou Community Foundation and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
When Bayou Community Foundation executive director Jennifer Armand stopped by the project site to thank the volunteers, she added that she hopes they’ll be back.
“We are so grateful,” she said. “We hope you leave here loving this area as much as we do.”
Parfait and other residents welcomed the volunteers, too, sharing stories, beignet pastries topped with powdered sugar, and plates of crawfish. Looking out from his newly constructed home, Parfait pointed to the water. “This is where I want to be,” he said. “I catch catfish, redfish and drum.”
He turned to his newest volunteer friend, Mary Zook, who was spreading paint on his home. “Hey, Mary! Wanna know what I call that color? Lancaster blue!”
Zook paused for just a moment to grin. “This is actually my fourth trip to volunteer,” she said. “I enjoy the adventure, the atmosphere—and the attitude.”
Susan Kim, MDS writer