Tony and Dolly Ellis

As New Orleans emptied out ahead of Hurricane Gustav, Tony Ellis finished some last minute deliveries for Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana. Ellis, a truck driver for the last year at Second Harvest, had been working with his fellow drivers and the Operations staff at the Elmwood warehouse pre-staging food for the better part of two days. Following Second Harvest’s Disaster Plan, emergency food is placed in key strategic locations to hasten response after Gustav’s impact with the Louisiana coast. With landfall 24 hours away and the city empty of its residents, Ellis made one last delivery and pre-loaded two tractor trailers with water and MREs. Recipients that last day included Children’s Hospital, NASA’s Lockheed Martin, and fire stations across the area. He then reported to the New Orleans Convention Center with his wife Dolly and a group of first responders to wait out the storm. As Gustav bore down, Ellis remembered the unique sound his winds caused with the downtown buildings. “It was howling like a thousand wolves,” he recalls. “I was not comfortable going outside in that.” But as soon as the winds died down, Ellis sprung into action. FEMA had delivered trailers full of supplies to support first responders, evacuees and the general public. Guided by the New Orleans Fire Department and the Louisiana National Guard, Ellis moved these FEMA and Second Harvest critical supplies including food, water, ice, cots – to name but a few – to places in need as quickly as Monday afternoon after that morning’s landfall. “Most days began at 5:30 or 6 a.m.,” Ellis says. “Dolly and I would roll usually until midnight. There was only one truck to move supplies around for the city and the military. I was the only one – the only driver.” And his efforts were well received. “We would not have been as successful in our operations, if we did not have Tony,” says Lt. Col. Martin Priest of the 256 Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “Tony became one of us – a soldier taking orders. He was an amazing asset as the only available truck for us to use to move supplies around for a 3 to 4 day period.” Although the hours were long and the empty city unfamiliar, Ellis did find common ground between his disaster work and his everyday duties at Second Harvest. “As I was delivering food or supplies to first responders after the storm, I felt the same way when I deliver food to our agencies. This is more than just a job for me. It’s a job I feel really good about,” Ellis says. As a member of Catholic Charities, Second Harvest is a key part the Archdiocesan humanitarian response to disasters. During regular operations last year, Second Harvest delivered 17 million pounds of food to more than 200 members faith-based and non-profit agencies in 23 parishes across south Louisiana. Within the 12 months following the landfalls of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Second Harvest became the largest Food Bank in the world moving 54 million pounds of food to those in need. Ellis and the rest of the staff at Second Harvest have a lot of experience leading the fight against hunger. But for Ellis, his greatest satisfaction came in those immediate days after Gustav. “Without a doubt, one of the best experiences I have had at the Food Bank,” Ellis says. “Our efforts were critical, and the results immediate.” Since the landfall of Gustav, Second Harvest Food Bank has distributed more than 62,000 meals and 235,000 bottles of water to those affected by the recent events.