Cooking up some beef for Louisiana flood victims

By Ashley Cusick

Christian Dornhorst serves barbecue to displaced flood victims. Photo / the Washington Post.
Christian Dornhorst serves barbecue to displaced flood victims. Photo / the Washington Post.

Outside the Celtic Media Centre, which has become a shelter for thousands left homeless by the historic Baton Rouge flooding, the smell of barbecue drew the displaced crowd to Christian Dornhorst.

Dornhorst, who lives across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, spent all of yesterday at the film studio (involved in the production of such hits as The Fantastic Four, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, and True Blood) with his wife and young daughter cooking up meat he'd bought with his own money to feed the flood victims.

"The Lord put this in my heart at 7 in the morning, when I was at work," Dornhorst, 35, said. He approached his boss at Dow Chemical, who let him take the day off to help the displaced.

"By 9, I had the food at Sam's Club," Dornhorst said. "By 11, my wife had seasoned it up."

Dornhorst and his wife spent over US$850 to purchase all of the brisket in the store, he said. "The Lord blessed us with all of these things," he said, looking at his truck, his smoker, and his cooking utensils. "There are enough people suffering here that I can do this to help."

In the morning, there was one small problem: Dornhorst didn't know where to bring all this food. The brisket had to be in the smoker by noon to be finished by dinner time, so Dornhorst jumped in his truck, his smoker already fired up in the back, and started driving.

Noon came and Dornhorst had not yet found a shelter, so he pulled over into a parking lot to throw the brisket onto the heat. A business owner came out to see what was going on and ended up directing Dornhorst to the Media Centre.

When Dornhorst pulled in, meat already smoking in the truck behind him, security officers sent him straight to a sound stage.

Dornhorst served food "non-stop," he said. Chicken and sausage cooked on two small grills throughout the day; three full pot roasts another volunteer dropped off at his table in the afternoon; and finally, just after 7pm, the finished brisket.

A familiar Louisiana scene emerged as those staying in the shelter - the old, the young, black people and white people - all enthusiastically lined up for the barbecue.

The smoked brisket - all 48kg of it - was gone within 20 minutes. After dark, Dornhorst sat in a folding chair, lightly sweating, as he politely told disappointed people that the food was gone.

Dornhorst's wife took their daughter home to sleep and he was glad they were able to be there. "I brought my 4-year-old so she could see what it's like when you don't have a bed," he said.

Displaced flood victims line up for a barbecue dinner. Photo / the Washington Post.
Displaced flood victims line up for a barbecue dinner. Photo / the Washington Post.

Rows of cots lined the sound stages. Evacuees sorted through donated clothing items piled high inside Sound Stage 7. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards stopped in to tour the facility, and volunteers from Louisiana State University, the Red Cross, and even the Church of Scientology helped to check displaced people in and to distribute food and water.

There were 11,054 guests in state-operated shelters, according to Byron Henderson, Public Information Director for the Louisiana Department of Revenue, and 2400 of them were at Celtic Media Centre, which opened as a shelter on Monday.

Shelter organisers asked Dornhorst to cook for the military and National Guard volunteers today. Despite the long day, he said he hoped to be able to do so.

Dornhorst is a veteran himself, and he wore a Wounded Warrior T-shirt as he cooked. "The only casualty is being forgotten," it read.

After taking a quick break - brisket debris and barbecue sauce still on his table - Dornhorst took out his phone and called his boss to ask if he could return the next day, and to see if Dow might be able to help sponsor the cost of another round of brisket.

"I can even put in a few hours in the am," he pleaded. "If I can pick up the brisket tonight."

- Washington Post

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