In late August, a massive flood swept through parts of southern and eastern Louisiana. Some areas took on more than five feet of water, and upwards of 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed—marking the beginning of a long and often exasperating road to recovery.
Today, the waters have since receded, and in many neighborhoods across eastern Baton Rouge and nearby towns, both sides of the streets are lined with damaged cars and immense piles of debris and rubbish. While some of the homes are in the process of being gutted or mucked out, others continue to simmer in the September heat.
The critical work of rebuilding homes and damaged businesses is now a daily slog for many Baton Rouge residents. But one group is making sure that residents are keeping cool and nourished in the scorching Louisiana heat.
Roger Wilder is the owner of more than a dozen Smoothie King locations. A franchisee since he was only 23, the brand has long been a part of Wilder’s life. From working with Smoothie King’s original owners, Steve and Cindy Kuhnau, to receiving Smoothie King’s Outstanding New Franchisee Award after only one year in business, Wilder wears his passion for the brand on his sleeve. But when his store in Denham Springs, Louisiana was substantially damaged from flood waters, Wilder didn’t let the devastation dampen his spirits. Instead, he turned it into an opportunity to give back to a community that had already given him so much.
“It hurts to see this happen because this was the first Smoothie King I had ever built, and Denham accepted me with arms wide open from the very beginning,” Wilder said. “But instead of focusing on my own business, I realized it was more important to focus on helping the entire community rebuild.”
Wilder, along with two of his Smoothie King employees, decided to keep the community cool and refreshed by offering up the one product he knows best—smoothies. With the help of Smoothie King’s home office in New Orleans and a company-branded van, Wilder headed out to his other Smoothie King locations. While there, his team whipped up hundreds of smoothies, stored them in ice chests and loaded them up on the van to hand out to local residents for free. From shelters in Livingston Parish and nearby schools, to dozens of neighborhoods in Walker, Watson and Denham Springs, Wilder’s goal was to provide a bit of relief to people who had been working hard day in and day out to restore their damaged homes.
“Our community is hurting. But because we’re all one community, we’ll do whatever it takes to stick together. There’s still a lot of work to do to get our community back on its feet, but I hope that in a way, donating smoothies and showing that we’re all here to help each other is a step in the right direction,” Wilder said.