NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As soon as the disaster strikes, an army of volunteers starts packing, not suitcases, but ice chests called called comeback coolers.
Bob Conley is the co-founder the organization with the same name and said it’s what’s inside these ice chests that makes the comeback a little easier for disaster victims.
“The coolers are filled with water, oranges, Gatorade, sodas and some of them have beer. Also a family cooler that has no alcohol,” Conley said.
What may seem like a small gesture can go a long way, he said.
“[It] just offers a little hope when we respond after a natural disaster. We vividly watch the news and then travel into a disaster area. We actively look for people who are in need," Conley said.
Jennifer George volunteers with the organization.
“It kind of just sets things apart and then they have a moment to just stop and be thankful instead of thinking about all the devastation they’re going through," George said.
Conley and his girlfriend, Heather Eason, came up with the idea in 2016.
“When Denham Springs flooded in 2016, I brought some supplies over there,” Eason said. “And just looking at their devastation, it brought back memories of Katrina. I was thinking, we have to do more, I have to do more.”
Since then, they have delivered right around 2,000 coolers to nine different natural disaster zones.
“If we come back with coolers, that’s a good thing. If we weren’t able to deliver them, all that means the devastation wasn’t as bad as we thought it was,” Conley said.
All of the coolers are donated by people and businesses in the community, even some from out of state. Pelican Ice in Kenner has donated close to 40,000 pounds of ice.
Caroline Roberts with Pelican Ice and said for people dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, no gift is too small.
“There’s not much you can do in a situation like that. We just want to do our part and make sure they know they’re not alone," Roberts said.
The ice chests are decorated with messages of hope from the donors and most say, “The comeback is always bigger than the setback.”
“We found that on a cooler that came from Vidor, Texas and so we try to put that on all of the coolers now,” Conley said. “It’s a pretty cool message.”
What they never anticipated was the pay it forward aspect, which just keeps growing.
“People are craving kindness and that’s what we’re giving," Eason said.
And what they’re giving is contagious, Conley said.
“Just being able to show up on somebody’s doorstep with a cooler full of cold drinks might not sound like a lot, but we have people who turned from recipient to volunteer within two weeks. They want to give someone else that feeling,” Conley said.
He said the goal is to raise the spirits of those whose lives have been turned upside down.
“It feels really good. It’s a lot of hard work and we enjoy it. We meet many people on the road and amazing people come to us and want to help get donations into recipients hands. I feel pretty fortunate to be a part of it," Conley said.
For more information about comeback coolers, here’s their website: https://www.comebackcoolers.com/