OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - If you know who Heather Eason is, you know about Comeback Coolers. During the last two years, Eason has turned the simple gesture of putting some adult beverages into a cooler and giving it to disaster victims into a regional and social media phenomenon.
Comeback Cooler is Heather's brainchild and the coolest pay-it-forward campaign around, even earning her a key to the City of Ocean Springs for her efforts. Officially, the program started in 2016 but the initiative's roots go all the way back to 2005 and Hurricane Katrina.
"I lived in Gulf Park Estates," Heather explains. "I got water in my house, a little bit above the kitchen cabinet. We were working sunup to sundown, day and night, and about seven days later, my mom came into town and she brought all these supplies."
Included in the supplies brought by Heather's mom was a cooler full of ice-cold beer. Fast-forward to 2016 and Heather was inspired by her mom's seemingly innocent action. After days of heavy rains caused massive flooding in Louisiana, Heather remembered the post-Katrina beer and decided to pay it forward.
"When Denham Springs flooded in 2016, I brought some supplies over there," she recalls. "Just looking at their devastation, it brought back memories. I was thinking, we have to do more."
So, Heather and her Comeback Coolers crew did more... a lot more.
"My sister and I brought 25 coolers to Denham Springs," she continued. "We went back and did it again and then last year, we went over to Texas when they had a hurricane. Denham Springs collected coolers. They had collected almost 200."
Since then, the collections have increased, along with the Comeback Cooler network. All over the eastern half of the country, when disaster strikes, Heather Eason and her Comeback Cooler comrades are there to ease the pain and literally raise the spirits of those whose lives have been turned upside down. Some coolers have beer, some have cleaning supplies and other drinks, and all of them have inspirational messages and words of encouragement from South Mississippians who've been there and done that.
One thing Heather never anticipated is the outreach of the Comeback Coolers movement.
"The whole premise behind this thing has really just evolved into a pay-it-forward thing. It's bigger than what I anticipated," she said.
Recently, her team turned the tables on Heather as she received a Comeback Cooler with a big surprise.
"So I got on stage and there was a cooler there, and they said, 'Heather, open the cooler,'" she said. "And when I got to the bottom of it, it said, ;Congrats, you are the sixth Hardees all-star winner of $10,000 for Comeback Coolers.'"
It was a touching moment for Heather as her actions came full circle with national recognition and a large donation to help fill more coolers.
"People are craving kindness and that's what we're giving, and I think a lot of times that media and social media get it wrong from what I've seen," she said. "It's completely opposite of what I've seen . It's just an outpouring of love."
Comeback Coolers is now an official 501 c-3 non-profit organization. To learn more about the organization, click HERE.