When the Church of St. John the Baptist (Zachary) & Our Lady of the Assumption (Clinton) in Louisiana launched a new parish website in August 2015, they couldn’t imagine how important it would become.

Then the Louisiana Flood of 2016 happened.

In mid-August 2016, historic flooding swept across the community, forcing thousands to scramble as their homes were threatened by a record-setting 20 inches of rain. Those who stayed dry set out to help by providing shelter, food or manpower.

“People who got water…as they started to see their life on the curb—that was really a challenge,” Fr. Jeff Bayhi, pastor of SJB-OLA, explained in an interview with Catholic Life Television.

“God creates virtues that never would have existed had we not first suffered.”

– Fr. Jeff Bayhi, Pastor, SJB-OLA

As the water level rose, police first turned to local churches to establish public shelters for flood victims. Fr. Bayhi said the police knocked on his door at 6 a.m., just hours after the flooding began. Once the request was made for the parish to take the lead, communication became critical.

Louisiana flood relief: Reaching out online

Thanks to messages posted on the parish’s Facebook page (which were automatically pushed to the parish website through a seamless integration), volunteers came out in droves.

“By 10 a.m., we had enough food to feed 100-200 people,” said Fr. Bayhi.

“Our ability to update the webpage easily and quickly with information about emergency assistance, updated mass times, and upcoming events was invaluable.” explained Cherie Gravois, a volunteer at SJB-OLA who manages the parish website. “The new website was key in mobilizing volunteers and keeping everyone on the same page.”

The parish used its homepage slideshow to clearly highlight shelter locations, emergency assistance contacts, and Mass schedule updates. A member of the parish office staff specifically created a graphic that called for assistance and outlined how to make donations and published it on the homepage.

“An out-of-state donor told us she looked at all the websites in Baton Rouge and ours had the clearest call for help. As a result, she sent our parish a large truckload of donations,” Gravois explained.

While SJB-OLA itself was spared from the flood, many parishioners and parish staff members lost their homes, including one parishioner who lost 38 of his rental properties. To date, the Louisiana Flood of 2016 has caused over $8 billion in damages and affected more than 130,000 households across the state.

Fr. Bayhi watched the community band together and grow during yet another Louisiana catastrophe.

“God creates virtues that never would have existed had we not first suffered. The suffering is here, it’s all around us. Whether or not the virtue comes out of this—it’s a decision we all have to make.”

Please continue to pray for those affected by the Louisiana Flood of 2016.