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.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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