Magic’s D.J. Augustin aiding New Orleans hospital workers amid coronavirus crisis
How the veteran point guard is helping provide food to those on the frontline
D.J. Augustin has 3,427 assists in his NBA career. But the Orlando Magic point guard is making bigger contributions in his hometown of New Orleans, which has been devastated by the coronavirus.
Augustin recently made a donation to Krewe of Red Beans that provided food for frontline hospital workers who are treating patients with COVID-19.
“They’re getting red beans and rice. They’re getting quality food,” Augustin told The Undefeated. “It’s not just McDonald’s or cold deli sandwiches. It’s quality food for these doctors and nurses to fuel their bodies for what they’re doing. Some of them were going all day without eating.”
Augustin and his wife, Brandy, have been in Orlando, Florida, since the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season due to the coronavirus on March 11. They were alarmed by the effects of COVID-19 nationally, but especially in New Orleans, which has been one of the hard-hit cities in the country.
“I have so many family members and friends in New Orleans who are dealing with this every day. It’s different for me. It’s really scary. People don’t understand until it affects them directly,” Augustin said. “New Orleans is so community-based. Everybody knows everybody. It’s tough to deal with right now. But we got to get through it, and stay strong.”
Augustin, 32, was born in New Orleans and his family lived in the Gentilly neighborhood. The 2004 New Orleans Times-Picayune High School boys basketball player of the year won two state championships at Brother Martin High School. But the Augustin family was forced out of New Orleans and lost their home due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Augustin finished the final season of his high school basketball career in Houston before joining forces with NBA star Kevin Durant at the University of Texas.
Augustin still considers New Orleans home and gives a free basketball camp there every summer. Nightmarish memories of how New Orleanians were affected during the deadly Hurricane Katrina inspired him and his wife to help their hometown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My wife and I being New Orleanians coming from Katrina when we were young, we saw the aftermath is when people needed the most help,” Augustin said. “We were talking about it, seeing how we can help now and after all of this is over.”
Krewe of Red Beans is known for hosting a Mardi Gras parade since 2009 called the Red Beans Parade. Its founder, Devin De Wulf, has been affected by COVID-19. The first two people in New Orleans who died of the disease were his friends.
His wife, Annelies, is an emergency room doctor at University Medical Center. When his wife told him that she and her co-workers were hungry as they fought COVID-19 and enjoyed some cookies a nurse made, he turned the Krewe of Red Beans’ efforts toward using charitable donations to pay for meals for doctors, nurses, technicians, hospital security, housekeeping and other staff and EMTs.
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One more HUGE thank you to @djaugustin who donated every single meal today AND yesterday. And thank you to each and every one of you who has donated and continues to donate. We’re all in this together, and we’re going to keep sending food love as long as we can #feedthefrontline #nolastrong #nolalove 📸: @katie.sik
“The light bulb hit me. Of course, food. People like food,” De Wulf said. “Like any workplace in the world, if someone brings in some yummy food, it’s a morale boost. I had all these restaurant contacts and 300 people in my Krewe to email. So, I placed a $60 order for some Brazilian delicious treats that are easy to share for my wife to bring to work the next day. They gave them out. Everybody was super happy.
“So, I started fundraising to do it more and more and more. And word of mouth started spreading.”
After De Wulf’s charitable efforts fed workers at University Medical Center, other New Orleans hospitals started reaching out for help. Wulf lined up 25 restaurants to buy large trays of food for the hospital workers that were paid for by charitable donations. To deliver the food, De Wulf employed out-of-work musicians.
“When people donate, literally all the money goes to a musician or a locally-owned restaurant,” De Wulf said.
Augustin heard about these efforts through a cousin who is a nurse and works with De Wulf’s wife. After exploring how to help, it was recommended that a donation be made to Krewe of Red Beans. After doing a background check, Augustin decided to partner with them.
“The thing I like about it is we’re helping feed the frontline,” Augustin said. “The nurses, the doctors. They are going all day without eating, trying to help people that are sick while risking their health and lives to do so. I heard that they shut the [hospital] cafeterias because they don’t want people in the cafeterias cooking and congregating. I looked at it as not only would we be feeding them good quality meals and bring joy to them, but also helped local businesses in the city.”
De Wulf had no clue who Augustin was when his representatives reached out. But after hearing about his NBA career, his connection to New Orleans and watching YouTube highlights, De Wulf was proud to join forces. De Wulf says Krewe of Red Beans was running out of money and has more than $70,000 in donations still frozen in a GoFundMe account that cannot be accessed until April 25.
“It was pretty amazing to have an NBA player reach out,” De Wulf said. “I can’t stress enough how crucial the timing was. We have this issue with GoFundMe and accessing my money. I had to keep it going and didn’t want to hit the pause button. If we hit the pause button, our efforts might die.”
Augustin, who was averaging 10.4 points and 4.6 assists this season for Orlando, has turned one of his garages into a gym over the last two weeks that includes a treadmill and exercise bicycle. He said the Magic also sent him some exercise and weight room equipment, but he has no access to a basketball gym while social distancing.
The 5-foot-11 guard remains hopeful that the 2019-20 season will resume.
“The only hard part if we do come back this season is guys having a rhythm and skills being on point,” Augustin said. “But in terms of being in shape, I will be in shape when we come back. I’m hoping we come back. We’re missing the game, and the fans are missing the game. I feel like we had a lot to prove this season. We were in a good spot. I’m going to be a free agent this summer.
“I’m hoping we come back. I’m hearing things may pick up in July and go into September.”
His efforts to aid others during the global crisis, however, are ongoing. Augustin’s donation has not only helped feed frontline hospital workers, but De Wulf said it also brought awareness to the Krewe of Red Beans’ efforts after it was announced. Krewe of Red Beans has spent about $70,000 on meals since March 11. Last Sunday, it paid for meals for 13 New Orleans-area hospitals and made 33 meal deliveries that fed more than 1,200 hospital workers.
Each donation made in Augustin’s honor includes a brown card that read: “To all our doctors, nurses, technicians, security, housekeeping, and hospital staffs THANK YOU for your continued commitment to serving our community & taking care of our sick! I hope you know how much we value your work. Enjoy your meal today! DJ Augustin.”
De Wulf said that even with Augustin’s donation, Krewe of Red Beans still desperately needs more funding to continue to feed hospital workers during the pandemic. But he is encouraged by what Augustin has contributed.
“It’s nice that someone from here is keeping tabs on it,” he said.