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Two local women recently joined forces to help Southwest Louisiana residents in need through an effort they have called the Vessel Project. Spearheaded by Dominique Darbonne and Roishetta Ozane, it provided hotel rooms during last week’s freezing temperatures, along with resources like food, water and baby supplies.

The two met Feb. 14 and began working to secure hotel rooms for those needing shelter. It was a private venture, different from similar efforts by government agencies or nonprofits. Ozane said they pooled their own money to provide hotel rooms for eight people.

A donation paid for another six rooms. The effort ended up providing more than 300 hotel rooms across Louisiana and Texas, with most of them being paid for through Feb. 20, Ozane said.

The number of people being helped daily by the Vessel Project grew from just over a dozen people Feb. 14, to 900 people Feb. 19.

“We’ve probably helped 1,400 people in the last five days,” Ozane said.

The services given to residents have varied from direct cash and hotel rooms, to water, food or other supplies. Ozane said there is no shortage of need in the area.

“We’ll get a $200 donation, and a $200 need is met,” Ozane said. “As soon as money comes in, it goes out. We have literally walked in Walmart and handed out $100 to people we see in need.”

Ozane estimated that the Vessel Project received close to $30,000 in donations over the last week.

“It’s been incredibly overwhelming,” Darbonne said. “People are taking money out of their pockets to help people they may never meet. We have seen nothing but love and unity and felt support and prayers. There is no way the two of us could have pulled this off on our own.”

Other businesses stepped up to help the Vessel Project’s mission. The Church of Christ on Enterprise Boulevard opened its doors to the Vessel Project Feb. 17. More than 800 gallons of water donated by Oak Farms Dairy and 50 cases of water donated by Southwest Louisiana

 Credit Union were distributed Feb. 19, Ozane said.

Ozane said their aim is to help other organizations during instances when some people may fall through the cracks and not get the help they need. However, the Vessel Project isn’t trying to step on the toes of those organizations.

“We don’t have to provide receipts,” she said. “Organizations have accounting and grants to deal with. We haven’t reached that point yet.”

“There are organizations to meet specific needs, but the need is so great,” Darbonne said. “It’s going to take all of us talking and creating a plan to help people who are suffering and don’t deserve it.”

People in need may lack the resources to reach out for help in the usual ways, Ozane said.

“How can you call 211 if you don’t have a cell phone,” she asked. “If there’s a giveaway at the Civic Center, how can you get there if you don’t have a car? There is a need for less red tape and a more streamlined process,” she said.

Both Ozane and Darbonne said the number of people struggling with homelessness has increased significantly since Hurricanes Laura and Delta.

“The number of people facing housing insecurity is staggering,” Darbonne said. “People are living in their cars because their house is unlivable and there are no places to rent.”

Both Darbonne and Ozane encouraged the community to offer help to those in need.

“There’s something happening with this project,” Darbonne said. “It’s a reminder that our purpose is to take care of each other.”

Darbonne said this particular arm of the effort is wrapping up today, but the Vessel Project is working on a plan to provide long-term solutions.

“We’re trying to create a situation where people don’t have to be desperate, where they can reach out and get a hand,” she said.

To learn more about the Vessel Project, visit its Facebook page or email vesselprojectla@gmail.com.

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