NEW ORLEANS – It's been nearly a year since Hurricane Ida slammed south Louisiana. Now that we're in peak hurricane season once again, there's a new initiative in New Orleans to turn neighborhood restaurants into refuge centers where people can go after a major storm.
The nonprofit organization, "Feed the Second Line," is behind the project "Get Lit, Stay Lit." Their goal is to equip restaurants with solar power so they can keep the lights on and keep people fed when the rest of the city is shut down.
"During Hurricane Ida, our entire city lost power for 10 days," said Devin De Wulf, the founder of Feed the Second Line. "Every restaurant in our city had to throw away all their food, everything that was in the freezer, in the fridge, and at the same exact time, a lot of people in our city were struggling. There was hunger."
De Wulf says the solar panels can withstand hurricane force winds and when the power goes out restaurants can rely on the solar power to keep their fridges and coolers running. The nonprofit hopes to install the panels on 300 local restaurants so every neighborhood in New Orleans has a food source they can rely on.
"We're trying to build up local resilience and empower restaurants to take care of their neighborhood," De Wulf said. "The restaurants will be able to save food, use that food to feed their neighborhood, they can become a cooling center, give out ice to people, and that might save someone's life in the days after a hurricane."
The Caribbean restaurant Queen Trini Lisa is the first to become a solar-powered microgrid as part of the project. Owner Lisa Nelson says it was a no-brainer for her to get onboard because of the thousands of dollars she lost after Hurricane Ida.
"Ida was very emotional for me," Nelson said. "I had to throw away a lot of stuff and I also lost my income."
Nelson said she feels more prepared heading into the peak of this hurricane season knowing she'll be able to keep her fridges running and stay open for her neighborhood.
"These customers sustain me during the week and this will be my way to give back," Nelson said. "At least we can charge their phones, keep them fed, keep them cool – just give them a glimpse of hope."
Each restaurant installation costs between $60,000 to $90,000. The nonprofit has crowd-funded the project so far with small and large donations, but they hope to receive either local or federal funding because they believe this is an idea that could benefit all hurricane prone communities.