Holmes Building Materials Donates Materials to Rebuild Flooded Homes

In Louisiana, family is everything, and at Baton Rouge-based Holmes Building Materials, family includes more than just the owners of the business. Family includes the company's 120 employees, thousands of customers, and the community at large. And never was helping family more important than during the aftermath of the worst flooding in the state's history.

Last August, heavy rainfall pushed more than 10 Louisiana rivers above their banks, flooding more than 146,000 homes statewide. Almost 75 percent of homes in Livingston Parish were considered "a total loss." Holmes Building Supply serves Livingston Parish, among several others, and many of its employees live there.

As flood waters receded, third-generation owner John Holmes took stock of the situation. The company's two locations were spared. Physically, he said, business could resume as usual, but from a human standpoint, almost half of his team members were devastated. They couldn't come back to work until they had sorted out their living arrangements. John said his first priority was to take care of his work family.

Many had lost everything because floods don't just damage structures. Once flood water has inundated carpets and clothing, cars and furniture, you can't just wring it out. Most of the wet items had to be trashed and replaced because of mold and bacteria.

John began one-on-one interviews with employees whose homes had been damaged. He tailored his responses to the individual needs of team members. He offered advances on vacation days, disaster relief loans or discounts on building materials. Repayment, he said, would start months later when the employees were back on their feet.

As he worked with his team members, however, John realized that the larger community also needed help. On one hand, he saw that many families were pitching in to help each other.

"They might start with Grandma's house," he said. "Once her house was finished, the family could all move in, and they would start on another house. Once that house was finished, they could move on to the next one."

On the other hand, however, some community members didn't have family to help. John saw that many elderly people who had paid off their homes years before, didn't have insurance and lived on fixed incomes would be unable to rebuild. Drawing on his commitment to his community, John contacted 10 churches in the area.

He asked each church to identify two families that really needed help. Working with three partner manufacturers, Georgia-Pacific, Knauf Insulation and Masonite Corporation, Holmes Building Materials donated insulation, drywall and interior doors to these families. The offer, however, was flexible. If the family didn't need interior doors, for example, Holmes offered to swap out similarly-priced materials they did need.

The project started with 20 homes but soon expanded its scope. Holmes Building Materials and its partners recently helped finish its 32nd home.

John said that he has seen a change in his team members. "It's nice to sell things that people want," he said, "but it's even better to sell things people need. It makes a difference when what you do really matters to people."

John and his employees have created what they hope will be lasting bonds with their customers. "When someone came in to buy materials, they had to sit down and tell us what they'd been through," he said. "Our lumber yard became a place where customers could share their stories."

Although Baton Rouge is recovering, John estimates that only 25 percent of damaged homes have been rebuilt. He plans to evaluate the project and continue to help when he can.

"I'm working with my son, Matthew," he said. "By the time I retire late next year, I hope our community will be back to normal. But if not, the Holmes family will be ready to respond."