Why one city is looking for the kids who sent messages of support after Katrina, 10 years later.

10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed Kim Bergeron's hometown of Slidell, Louisiana.

Slidell, Louisiana, 16 days after Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.


"We took a direct hit," Bergeron, a local relief worker, told Upworthy.

With nearly all of the city's buildings devastated or in disrepair, relief workers clustered into the only municipal building that was still functioning. They slept on cots in hallways, used makeshift showers that were nothing but a curtain and a hose, and ate thrown-together meals served outside in a tent.

"We were there 24/7," Bergeron said. "Many of the employees had lost their homes and couldn't go home."

But the worst wasn't over.

"When we heard [Hurricane] Rita was in the gulf, spirits just plummeted," Bergeron recalled. "To be quite honest, many people just lost it. We didn't know what to do. We didn't know how to act. It was just more than we could handle.

"And that's when we got these cards."

The cards arrived in a box from a group of schoolchildren in Massachusetts.

For the demoralized relief workers of Slidell, they changed everything.

Photo by Kim Bergeron.

"It was just like sunshine in the middle of all this darkness and despair," Bergeron said.

"It was just what we needed."

Though they were only a small gesture, the cards gave Bergeron and her colleagues the strength to go on rebuilding, despite the dark clouds on the horizon.

10 years later, Bergeron decided it was time to write those kids a thank-you note.

She doesn't know who they are or what school they were from, but she wants them to know what an incredible impact their cards had.

Photo by Kim Bergeron.

"I would love nothing more than for those kids, now teenagers I'm sure, to recognize what a difference they made," she told Upworthy.

"For the people who received this, it was much-needed medicine at a time when it was really, really needed."

Photo by Kim Bergeron.

Here's her letter of gratitude:

Dear Schoolchildren of Massachusetts,

It's been nearly ten years since we received the box of cards that you sent us following Hurricane Katrina. I know that you're not quite so little anymore—some of you may be in high school, perhaps some have graduated. But this message is sent with the intent of letting you know what you, as elementary school students, did for our city's first responders when you sent your well wishes.

Photo by Kim Bergeron.

I'm not sure how or why you selected our little city of Slidell instead of one of the larger cities to receive your gift of hope. Perhaps your teacher knew that Slidell was the Louisiana city hardest hit by the storm. Or perhaps she was from a small city herself, and knew that the majority of relief efforts would be channeled through larger, metropolitan areas. Or perhaps we just got lucky.

Photo by Kim Bergeron.

Now, here's what you may not know: on the day your box of cards arrived in the only City of Slidell complex that was not destroyed by Katrina, we had just learned that Hurricane Rita was in the gulf and it, too, was headed our way. We were still pretty much in shock from living in the movie-of-the-week that was the aftermath of Katrina. Panic set in. Spirits plummeted. And we didn't know how or if we could deal with another hurricane.

Then your box arrived. And for the moments we spent perusing your cards, we were enveloped by the love with which they were created. And it helped.

Photo by Kim Bergeron.

We taped your cards on the doors and walls of our office, and they helped ease the stress with which we were dealing, and that which was still to come.


You gave us sunshine in the midst of darkness. And for that we are grateful.


My only regret is that, ten years later, I cannot recall from which school these were sent, so I could send you a personal thank you note, yet again, to let you know how much your cards saved all of us.


It is my hopes that you see this message, and you know that your kindness is still remembered a decade later.


The cards continue to inspire Bergeron and her colleagues to help those in need to this day.

When Hurricane Sandy struck the U.S. East Coast in 2012, Bergeron and a colleague organized a relief effort called The Train of Hope for Sandy Relief, which included a card drive. For the 10th anniversary of Katrina and Rita this year, she's hosting an auction to support local Habitat for Humanity rebuilding efforts in the region.

In the meantime, Bergeron hopes to focus on the positive and remind people that when disaster strikes, even the smallest gesture of kindness can make a difference.

"Even little things become big things," she said.

Photo by Kim Bergeron.

True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.