Within days of Hurricane Ida ending its slog through southeast Louisiana, Allen Keller and his tailgate crew were organizing help. Keller put out a call for donations and supplies on social media with the hashtag #TailgateTogether, rallying Saints fans and anyone wanting to do what they could after seeing the destruction in Louisiana.
People could donate directly to Keller or purchase items from an Amazon wishlist. Funds were given directly to people in need of gas money, hotels and food. Purchased items — things like paper towels, portable fans, diapers and clean socks — were shipped to his house on the outskirts of Baton Rouge and taken to contacts in LaPlace, New Orleans and Hammond for distribution.
Normally during Saints home games, Keller and his friends can be found with a grill, speakers, TV, “the whole nine yards,” he says, at the corner of Loyola Avenue and Perdido Street — and feeding the unhoused community around Claiborne Avenue. Three weeks after Ida, #TailgateTogether has helped 108 families with supplies and given out $12,800 in direct aid, Keller says.
“We just feel there’s an obligation to help others who need help,” he says. Along with Keller, Chris Bonneé, Donna Dawson, Ryne Hancock, Kateria Lee, Marilyn Sauls, Katherine Seals and El Williams have been organizing #TailgateTogether relief efforts.
Back in 2014 or so, Keller and his friends quietly started feeding the unhoused downtown around Saints games — and that quickly grew to also preparing and serving meals during the offseason.
“Then I was like, OK I need just a little more help,” Keller says, and by 2018 things really started to expand. The next year, for the 2019 home game against the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 10 — two days after celebrating his 38th birthday — Keller took to social media to ask for supplies to help give out. People stepped up, donating coats, gloves and blankets. Similarly, Keller says, it’s been everyday people donating to #TailgateTogether hurricane relief efforts.
Last year, the group organized help for southwest Louisiana following Hurricane Laura, sending supplies, direct aid and even a few Christmas presents for evacuees who still couldn’t return home months after the devastating storm.
“I know just how slow [federal response] can be,” says Keller, who worked for FEMA for several years. “People need help and they don’t have time to wait and wait for eight days or nine days. I know how frustrating that can be.”
The New Orleans Saints organization and players have also been active in relief efforts. On Aug. 30, owner Gayle Benson launched the Saints and Pelicans Gulf Coast Renewal Fund and contributed $1 million. Her donation to the fund was matched by the National Football League Foundation, and the owners of the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers each made their own $1 million donations to organizations like The Greater New Orleans Foundation, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and the Red Cross.
Cam Jordan pledged $40,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank. Alvin Kamara and Jameis Winston both directly contacted Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office to offer whatever help they could. And a number of players cut a promo with WWL-TV to help raise donations for the United Way’s hurricane relief fund.