We are still processing and may not ever be able to fully process our feelings or be able to write about it well. But we wanted to get this out asap.
Our trip was inspired two things. First, feeling sort of helpless, knowing many of our fellow Texans needed help. Second, a Facebook post we saw several times -- that the "big" cities were getting attention and help in the wake of Harvey's destruction, but small towns on the Coast needed help. We'll confess, we hadn't heard of most of the towns in the post - Tivoli, Bayside, Woodsboro. Neither of us have any real personal connection to the Coast--no vacation home, beach shack, etc. But, when we saw the reminder, we felt like we could make a difference in some lives and set to work to do it.
It came together pretty quickly. We decided on Thursday, September 7 and reserved a van to take supplies. We decided we'd go Monday, September 11. Mishell lived in New York on 9/11, so she avoids social media for the most part, tries to commemorate life, and thought this was a good way to give service on such a meaningful day, and Justine agreed.
On the 8th, we posted on Facebook looking for a van, so that we'd have $350 or so extra to contribute to supplies.
A couple people said they didn't have a van, but they'd love to donate. People shared. Strangers sent us $10, $20 to help out. We cried. The amazing generosity of our friends, our friends' friends, Mishell's law co-workers at Culhane Meadows, of . . . . of people. Finally, Pierre and Justine of Justine's Brasserie said, "Take our minivan!" Did we say we cried?
We raised about $1,500 plus contributed our own money, all of which would go for supplies that the towns were saying they needed. Others brought donations by (we were strict on what we would allow, since the needs will be rolling) from a list the Rockport fire department had recently posted. We shopped. Mishell had a houseguest from Australia who was roped into duty. You've never seen so much comparison shopping on the per ounce price for laundry detergent. Target gave us 15% off our shop; Home Depot gave us 10%. We cried.
We amassed a LOT of stuff:
We had brooms, bleach, first aid supplies, blow up mattresses, pumps, batteries, socks, feminine hygiene products, depends, work gloves, rubber gloves, utility knives and blades, trash bags . . . and LOTS of mosquito repellent. And lots and lots of cleaning supplies. A neighbor brought homemade soup for the first responders. We loaded the van, but still had room:
So, we went and bought more stuff. A friend who was down there working gave us more intel on what was needed and where. Justine, being a smart mom, thought shelf stable dairy and nondairy milk would be a hit, even though it wasn't on the list. She's a genius. Several places said they had cereal, but no milk because . . . well, many towns were just having power restored. We bought $250 in gift cards to HEB, our awesome Texas grocery store, that had already been doing SO MUCH (more info here) to help out and to try to ease things for its employees and the communities it serves.
On the morning of the 11th, we took off. Not as early as we would have liked (you've met us, right?), but early enough. On our way, we stopped in Gonzales and bought donuts for ourselves and thought, hey, maybe the folks down there would like donuts and kolaches, so bought several dozen of each. At the bottom are more detailed pictures of supplies we bought, because we want you to know where your money went!
Based on feedback from other friends who had been down to the Coast, we set our sights on Tivoli, TX. About the time we hit Victoria, we started to see some evidence of the storm - more brush, trees down. But it was not until we got much closer that we saw the extent of the devastation (and if you were hoping for disaster porn pics, you won't find them here--this is real people and its personal, and we just can't do it). Roofs on the ground, with nothing resembling what might have held them up. Cotton (a big crop) moldering in bales, the rest blown and lost. Huge trees uprooted. Homes with tarps where roofs used to be. A piece of a recliner randomly on the side of the road where there were no apparent buildings. Signs of obvious flooding.
We pulled into Tivoli and it was easy to find where to go to take supplies. Three men were manning a smoker by a large tent filled with cots. They told us to "talk to the ladies inside." "Inside" was an old store of some sort, the building for sale, the space being donated. Although there were a couple of law enforcement types inside, who helped us schlepp, the whole thing was run by local volunteers. They had regular hours, a procedure for Tivoli residents (who are limited to one visit a day) to get supplies. A puppy was excited to see us and kept us company.
The biggest hits: soup, donuts, kolaches. Anything "fresh" to eat was loved. The shelf stable milk. Some of the items we brought they were well supplied with -- diapers, feminine products, canned goods. Mosquito repellent. In fact, that became a theme - everyone had repellent. And it wasn't as needed because the planes had sprayed (sprayed what, I don't know, but if you'd seen pics from the week before, you probably wouldn't care). They were grateful, but not real chatty, and didn't take items that they thought would be of more use to another town. They had an updated list of things they needed.
We realized then that where we would be the most use would be in doing another supply run after we dropped off what we had. The lovely people in Tivoli told us, "Go to Seadrift. They don't have nothing."
We made a stop at the "comfort station" bathroom, and were happy to see that there was a shower trailer and a laundry trailer. Hard to stay clean when you're doing dirty work. We took some guys working the electrical lines Gatorade. All over the coast we saw that, for the most part, the initial brush clearing and tree removal had been started and was well underway. We saw trees being mulched.
We headed for Seadrift, a small shrimping town. As we pulled into town, we saw what looked like a clothing swap on the left side of the road, but passed it and found the open City offices, where Red Cross relief kits sat, one per household only. The City folks didn't know what to do with us, eventually sending us to the Baptist church, where we left some items and gave some to a gentleman who was there to get supplies. He said he'd share with his neighbors. But that we should go to that place we'd passed because they were really coordinating.
So, we went back to the shop, Seadrift’s Treasure Chest the owner, Sylvia who had herself lost her home, was coordinating with some friends and really had taken on the disaster relief. They'd been set up in the Civic Center, but tossed out because other relief was to be coming. It never did. Only about half the residents of Seadrift, had returned so far. They'd only had power for a week. We were told that they'd need more stuff as people came back -- sheets, towels, blankets, pillows. These women took clothes, too, because the people coming back had none. This was the first place we saw children.
Many of the residents had "lost everything." Yet, when asked, we were told, "Oh, no, there are other towns that need help more, like Indianola. They aren't really towns, but communities. And they have a lot of elderly people." They need help, too.
Tivoli and Seadrift: they might have had it tough, but they were willing to share what little there was. We managed to get back in the car so we didn't cry in front of these hardworking volunteers, who were so brave and giving in the face of incredible hardship. Just trying to put their towns back together.
So, we took our money and went back to Victoria, where the Super HEB was in operation. We bought things specifically requested: matches, bug bobs, laundry and dish detergent, more shelf stable milk. We didn't get a discount, but the employees helped us find coupons so our dollars would stretch. We loaded up our second, smaller load and headed back.
We decided to take a look around Seadrift because we'd never been. Looking at the peaceful bay, you'd never know what happened, until you saw the pier:
And the public restroom that had all but been torn from its foundation.
We didn't see any alligators, but probably would have peed our pants if we had (sorry, Justine and Pierre).
You could tell that Seadrift had civic pride from its murals and gorgeous library.
And we found some art to love, too:
We went back and dropped off the requested supplies with the Seadrift Treasure Chest ladies.
We chatted a bit about what was needed and what was still to come. Sunscreen. Backpacks for the children. Plastic storage totes with lids because you have to put the stuff you clean somewhere. These women also were allowing people who were not residents of Seadrift to get supplies. We left gift cards, which they said they'd use for a supply run of what was needed most. We got a phone number, so if you decide you want to run supplies, you can find out the biggest needs.
Then, back to Tivoli with our last load. They were closing up for the day, but helped us get the supplies inside. We'll be honest, they are pretty well stocked with MOST things for now. That will change as more people come back. We got a phone number there, too.
As we drove home, exhausted, we kept ourselves awake by reading the history of the small Texas towns we had been in and passed. There is a rich history here. We had some moments of levity--Cheapside's most notable resident was Keyes Fawcett Carson Jr., who in the 1930s became an expert hitchhiker, traveling over 250,000 miles with his pet turkey (the turkey is the bird of thanks and Cuero, TX is the "turkey capital of the world"). Had dinner at Maya's in Cuero, where the homemade tortillas were things of beauty.
We still can't even process what we saw, heard, and felt. Mostly, our emotions were and are all over the place. Sadness, happiness, pride, humility, and most of all gratitude. Thank you to our friends and family who contributed time and money and supplies. We count ourselves lucky to have you and are humbled by your trust in us to do the right thing with your money.
(1) there was almost NO organized, official help; this work was being done by neighbors (who had themselves lost so much), for neighbors, and it was this incredible generosity of spirit that maybe undid us the most.
(2) the needs are evolving, quickly. What's needed the most today may not be at the top of the list tomorrow. We've got phone numbers and can share. But, now that electricity is coming back, you may be able to reach some folks via Facebook or the internet.
(3) kids. They'll be coming back and trying to live. They need backpacks and school supplies.
(4) Many of those most impacted weren't affluent to begin with and we wondered whether they'd have the resources to rebuild their lives (as we'd noted, sometimes evacuation itself is a luxury when you are on a fixed income and the hurricane comes more than a week after payday; if you've never lived paycheck to paycheck, this may be hard to understand, but it is the stark and real truth)
(5) some towns that need help: Indianola, Magnolia, Port Comfort, Bayside. Your money can go a long way there.
(6) we saw UPS making deliveries, so feel free to ship stuff if you've got a place to ship to (we can probably help with that)
The Victoria Advocate had an article with some info on places that need help, where to give, etc.
Donations accepted at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 814 N. San Antonio St., in Port Lavaca.
To volunteer or offer donations, call the Volunteer Hotline at 361-580-5790.
This article sums up a lot of how we feel, especially this quote from the author, Parker Molloy:
Here are boring pictures of supplies, because we want you to know where your money went.