Hurricane Katrina Recovery

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Community Center of St Bernard
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The Community Center of St Bernard is dedicated to empowering survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by providing them with local access to the essential recovery resources that they need to rebuild their lives and their communities. Free services provided by the Community Center and its partner agencies include clothing, hot meals, canned food, internet access, public phones, computer classes, food stamp enrollment assistance, case management, advocacy for the disabled, legal aid, general medical care, Road Home assistance, senior citizen employment training, emotional support and counseling, prenatal care, and community building events including holiday celebrations, workshops, and dinner-dances.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

The Community Center of St Bernard is a grassroots nonprofit formed in Arabi, Louisiana in response to the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. St Bernard Parish, adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, was devastated by these storms. Every home and business in the parish was flooded, and hurricane damage to the Murphy Oil Refinery caused the largest residential domestic oil spill in US history, with more than 1,000,000 gallons released into local homes and businesses.

Recovery from the storms has been a painfully slow process. Even nearly 4 years later, the Parish population is only about half of what it was pre-Katrina. For comparison, next door in New Orleans the population is already at 80% of pre-Katrina values. There are no hospitals anywhere in St Bernard Parish now, and no Food Stamps office. The Parish library is still operating out of a temporary trailer, waiting for a permanent facility to be rebuilt.


The Community Center of St Bernard is dedicated to empowering families who are working to rebuild their lives here at the epicenter of Katrina devastation. Like many small nonprofits, we struggle with meeting the ongoing needs of our clients within the boundaries of our own limited financial and personnel resources. Using donated Microsoft Office products has been absolutely vital in allowing the Community Center to maximize our impact to the community and make the most efficient use of our staff, office equipment, and budget.

The effect of the Microsoft Office donations on the programs offered at the Community Center has been far-reaching, and in some ways has allowed us to transform the ways we do business. For example, one of the most essential services at the Community Center is the Mustard Seed Food Pantry. During 2008 this program disbursed almost 250,000 lbs. of food to over 2,000 unique households. 98% of these families earn less than $25,000 annually, and 62% of them are trying to survive on less than $10,000 per year. Mustard Seed clients include the elderly (6%), the disabled (31%), the unemployed (43%). They’re single-parent households (29%), young children (36%), and the homeless (6%).


Thanks to Microsoft Office Access 2007 received through TechSoup, the Community Center has been able to develop a Food Pantry client database that allows us to efficiently and automatically generate the many periodic reports required by our grantors, donors and food suppliers. This innovation has freed up valuable staff time and ensured that we are always in compliance with grantor and food supplier reporting requirements.


In addition, we use Microsoft Office Word 2007 and Publisher 2007 to generate handouts for Mustard Seed clients that help them better understand the complicated food pantry intake process required by Second Harvest (Feeding America), one of our main food suppliers.


The Food Pantry is only one of several programs to have benefited from donated Microsoft products. The Community Center also runs a Hot Meals program, which served more than 7,800 meals to residents in need during 2008. Microsoft Office Excel is used to monitor the food inventory for this program, allowing staff to quickly see what ingredients are on hand and devise menus accordingly. Using Excel for inventory management has resulted in more accurate records and a large reduction of redundant record keeping. This in turn has increased the efficiency of meal planning and food usage by the Hot Meals program.


Another of the Community Center’s main functions is providing information and referrals to residents who need help finding recovery resources as they work to rebuild their homes and their lives. During 2008 alone, the Community Center passed out more than 28,000 flyers, brochures and guides, most of them written in-house with donated Microsoft Office Word or Publisher software received through TechSoup.


Being able to generate professional quality documents ourselves at short notice is very important given the ever-changing availability of resources as the recovery effort progresses. For example, after Hurricane Gustav last September, the Community Center passed out nearly 1,800 flyers in 4 days to help residents find locations where they could enroll for the Emergency Food Stamps program. Since these enrollment locations continually became overwhelmed and were closed down with little or no notice, being able to generate updated flyers on-demand was essential so that we could maximize our impact by providing residents with the accurate and timely information that they needed in the aftermath of the storm.


The Community Center also has a media lab which includes 10 public-use computers, all of which run Microsoft Office 2003 received from TechSoup. We choose to use Microsoft Office rather than a freeware alternative since Office is the de facto standard that residents are likely to encounter at their place of employment, making a basic familiarity with it an important asset for them to have. During 2008, 5,665 independent sessions were logged on the media lab computers, and residents used Microsoft Office Word to generate everything from resumes to recipes to party invitations to school reports. These computers are also used for the Community Center’s free 5-week computer classes. Attended by 143 clients last year, the computer classes include a module to teach residents the basics of using Microsoft Office Word so that they are able to begin using this program effectively for their home or business purposes.


Finally, the Community Center uses Microsoft Office Word and Publisher to generate a wide variety of documents targeted towards donors, grantors, and other supporters, in addition to providing informational materials and resource guides for residents. The Community Center’s annual report is written with Microsoft Publisher, as are our general brochure, volunteer brochure, and various donor-oriented factsheets and direct mail solicitations. And we are currently working on a PowerPoint presentation that will be used as part of a nationwide tour next fall in order to raise additional awareness and funding for the Community Center. The ability to generate these publicity, marketing and fundraising materials in-house as needed has had a far-reaching and critical effect on the ability of the Community Center to obtain the funding it needs to continue serving residents during these difficult economic times.

In closing, the Community Center of St Bernard is grateful for the many ways in which donated Microsoft Office products have helped us to maximize our impact in the community by increasing the efficiency of our programs. These products have also transformed some of the ways we do business by giving us in-house control of our published documents, allowing us to ensure that we are always presenting the most current and relevant information to clients, donors, grantors, and other supporters. Thank you very much for your generosity in making these products available.

Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact
Supporting Work Files