In the few months after the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Louisiana — some of the darkest days of the pandemic comprised of closed doors, stay-at-home orders and rising angst — health care workers battled the novel coronavirus under a bevy of unknowns. Jeray Jarreau, a lawyer from Larose, saw the toll the virus was taking on her friends in the medical field.
“One of my friends came to me, and she was concerned, asking, ‘if I die, what happens to my children?’ and ‘who’s gonna take care of them,’” Jeray remembers. “And I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m sitting behind a desk at a lawyer’s office. I’m not out on the front lines like this girl is, risking her life every day.’ I wanted to help, and my friends and my family wanted to help. We just didn’t know how to help.”
In May of 2020, Jeray found her way to help through the Bayou Community Foundation (BCF), a local nonprofit offering COVID grant opportunities. Thus, she obtained 501(c)(3) status for her organization, Bless Your Heart, and applied for a BCF grant.
Right away, the newly-formed organization got to work, delivering essential workers snack baskets and providing the public with masks, hand sanitizer and other needed supplies. Bless Your Heart’s efforts then shifted toward assisting local schools as members aimed to see children back in the classroom. The nonprofit purchased infrared thermometers for South Lafourche feeder schools and aided local principals with other supplies needed to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. And the organization stepped up to help their community in several ways since then.
Bless Your Heart consists of just five board members, Ross Jambon (Jeray’s brother), Hillary Danos, Luke Newman, Chris Brantley and Jeray. But every time it needs community support, it extends beyond its five members. “We believe that Bless Your Heart is really just an opportunity for the members of our community who want to help an opportunity to help. And so, the members of our community who want to donate to a specific cause, we give them an opportunity to donate to that cause, and they always come in more than I could even imagine,” Jeray says.
“We did a presale of a hat and a necklace for a little girl in our community who had over 40 anaphylactic allergies so that she can get some medical treatment. Our community just outpoured their support and raised like $6,000 for her. We did a cancer benefit for one of our friends, and we quadrupled our initial goal,” she continues. “When the Seacor Power sank off of Port Fourchon, their families had come into our community, and they left their homes with the clothes on their backs. So, we were able to buy them phone chargers, food, clothes, snacks…We were able to actually issue checks to each of the families.”
Then came this past August, when the group’s biggest challenge revealed itself. Hurricane Ida struck southeast Louisiana as a destructive Category 4. With sustained winds of 150 mph and registered 170-plus-mph gusts, the life-altering storm shattered the Lafourche Parish bayou communities — leaving destroyed homes, overturned vessels, scarce supplies and heartbreak in its wake.
Jeray didn’t recognize her Larose neighborhood when she returned after evacuating. “I immediately didn’t know where I was: none of the houses looked the same, none of the trees looked the same, none of the cars looked the same. I was standing on my front porch, kind of in a daze,” she shares. “…And so, the farther we went down the bayou, just the worst it was.”
Through her profession, she knows how impoverished the area is and how hungry local children are, regardless of Ida, Jeray says. “So, knowing what I know about pre-storm conditions, our nonprofit, before the storm hit landfall, was working on trying to arrange supplies to get down here because we knew that there would be a huge need.”
Messages came pouring in from around the country once the organization posted the area’s needs on social media. Subsequently, thousands of supplies were rushed into South Lafourche Leonard J. Miller Jr. Airport in Galliano, which was operational shortly after the storm passed. Not one warehousing facility in the area had not sustained damage, Jeray says. So, for their first mass distribution event, Bless Your Heart and local volunteers spent a blistering Friday unloading and sorting supplies for their event the next day, Sept. 4, at Dufrene Building Materials in Cut Off. Then, they moved operations to the Larose Civic Center and by press time, had hosted two more large-scale distributions, providing such needed relief supplies as water, canned goods, toiletries, feminine products, power banks and cleaning supplies, among other items.
On Sept. 10, the day before Bless Your Heart’s second distribution, the organization received eggs and bananas from Second Harvest Food Bank. Unable to refrigerate the foods, members quickly put the word out for folks to stop by and receive the donations. “This car of this family drove up. The baby is in a diaper, and the kids are in the back seat, hot, you can tell. We handed them the bananas, and you could tell that they had not eaten in a while — they were eating the bananas while we were handing them to them. If we were not there to accept supplies and get bananas out to the public, those kids would not have eaten that night,” Jeray recalls. “I can’t imagine more important work than that.”
Another moving story Jeray shared happened before Bless Your Heart’s relief operation was in full swing. The Wednesday after the storm, Jeray and Ross checked on an elderly man who lived in a nearby apartment complex. His sister could not enter the parish at that time, so she reached out to them; with down communications, she didn’t know how he fared through the storm. “So, we drive up into this apartment complex, and they just come out like ants. It was a bunch of elderly people who obviously rode out the storm in that apartment complex. The roofs were gone. They were like, ‘We’re on our last case of water…Do y’all have anything? Can you please send people to come help us,’” Jeray says. “None of them had transportation. They couldn’t leave.”
Jeray says the Ida survivors had no running water and were rationing food. Fortunately, Ross still had water in his truck, and the brother and sister gave them as much of it as they could. “And every time they had a hot meal distribution, or we had supply distributions, we would send people to that area because we knew that they were needing it,” Jeray says.
In the weeks following the storm, Jeray and the other members of Bless Your Heart kept busy, dividing their time between dealing with damages at their homes and volunteering when their community needed them most. At least three of the five board members’ homes, including Jeray’s, had to be gutted. At press time, she had been living in a camper in her brother’s driveway with her husband and 3-year-old son. “My daughter, who’s 5, has epilepsy, and this whole thing has been really overwhelming to her…She doesn’t like to see the damage at our house…She’s been back and forth, but for the most part, she’s been at my in-laws’ in New Roads,” Jeray shares.
Being heavily involved in the foster care system through work, Jeray explains, her kids understand that there are children not as fortunate as them, and both of them have been to the distribution events to lend a helping hand. “Just yesterday, our neighbor had come walk over, and my son had two hot dogs. She said, ‘I want a hot dog. Can I have one?’ And he was so quick to give her a hot dog. And I was like, ‘Good, that’s exactly how you should be. If you have two, you definitely need to be giving one.’ We pray every day that we instill service in our children.”
In late September, Bless Your Heart members set the plans for their next endeavor to alleviate another burden local families faced. They began taking request forms for families in need of school uniforms, undergarments and school supplies for their students. “We had a lady who called yesterday; she and her children have the clothes on their back. And she said, ‘My son right now is wearing a size 32 pants with a rubber band around the bottom of it because he’s wearing someone else’s clothes,’” Jeray remembers.
Among the despair Ida caused south Lafourche, Jeray believes there have been some signs of hope, witnessing people of different walks of life, sides of the aisle and beliefs uniting for the greater good. “I feel like the world wants to make it seem like everybody’s so divided…But really, it’s not,” she says. “If there’s some sort of a silver lining in all of this, it’s that it’s really brought everybody together like they just have a common goal of trying to help each other out. I feel like it’s really kind of rekindled that bond.”
To learn more about Bless Your Heart and how to get involved, visit