As Hurricane Harvey recently wreaked havoc on Texas, my big-hearted friend Rachel Konishi knew she had to help. Her friend, Brendan Holmes, and his brother, Spencer, felt the same way.
I was dealing with some personal struggles and had time off, so I thought it’d be a good idea to stop feeling sorry for myself and join them in assisting people who were struggling a lot more than me.
Our time in the Victoria, Texas, area ended up being an incredibly rewarding experience for all involved.
“Thank you so much. We can’t express with words how blessed we feel.” — Eva
Rachel (@hobocita) became friends on Twitter with Texas transplant Graig Warner (@BluCougTX) through their mutual love of BYU sports. Rachel was looking for a place to go volunteer, and Graig explained that his area had been hit hard by Harvey and could use our help. A couple of days later, we loaded up Brendan’s truck with cleaning supplies, tools, drinks, food and some willing and able bodies, and headed south. Graig and his wife Jamie generously opened up their home, their pantry and their hearts to the four of us for five days. The Holmes' relatives in Lubbock graciously allowed us to crash at their home to break up the drive there and back.
“Thank you! It would have taken me two weeks to clean this.” — Felipe
As often happens, the helpers feel even more blessed than the helped, and that was certainly the case this time.
It was humbling to see the nature-caused destruction, which ranged from toppled trees, signs and roofs to decimated buildings and homes, blown-over fences, displaced shingles, strewn-about debris, and flooded streets and homes.
It was an honor to go from house to house offering a helping hand. We cleared yards of damaged trees and broken branches, putting our manpower and saws to good use. We helped one young family muck out their flooded home, removing a layer of Sheetrock, insulation and baseboards to prevent molding. We moved some furniture. We picked up trash.
We even allowed Texas-sized mosquitoes to feed on us instead of the hurricane victims.
We did most of our work in conjunction with the local LDS Church. On our first morning there, we met up with a group of volunteers at the Victoria Ward building. By the time we arrived, a lot of the most pressing work — like putting tarps on roofs — had already been done, but there was still a ton to do. There still is.
“It’s starting to look like a home again.” — Ralph
That first afternoon was particularly sobering.
We went to the older part of Victoria near the Guadalupe River, which had just crested and flooded some already downtrodden areas. My heart sank when I saw the condition of the battered homes, some of which had been damaged by fallen trees and others that were waterlogged. A bunch of us — some locals, a group from elsewhere in Texas and the Utah Chainsaw Unit (us) — helped the cute Castillo family clean up big wind-damaged trees and their flood-ravaged home. My favorite helpers were the two small Castillo boys, including 4-year-old Colton, and Paul from San Antonio. This family just moved into their small brick house in May and had recently installed new flooring. Fortunately, they are among the few who have flood insurance. Reports claim only 1 in 5 homes in the affected area, Houston and elsewhere, were properly insured before this tragedy. That's sad.
“I now truly understand the phrase, 'many hands make light work.'" — Rachel
I had joked on the first day that I’d hoped to get one of the yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” T-shirts that many of the volunteers were wearing. My wish was fulfilled Sunday morning after the ward held an abbreviated half-hour church service, which included the administration of the sacrament and a couple of testimonies before we all dispersed to help out.
It was neat to see dozens of yellow-clad workers doing good around town. We weren’t the only ones. Baptists, Methodists, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers and others were also out and about pitching in. Although there’s plenty of misery and messed up stuff about the world, it speaks highly of humanity how we rally around one another in time of need. My heart was moved by those who donated money, items for young kids, meals, time and clothes, including a huge box full of Jazz items from Utah’s favorite NBA team.
“That’s a blessing! I can’t afford it and can’t do it by myself.” — Ernestina
The highlight of my trip happened on our last night in Victoria. The generosity of dozens of people allowed us to give $1,500 to a newlywed couple, Tyler and Eva Boswell, with two beautiful young kids, after their trailer home was decimated by the storm. (Several other people in need — families and an elderly lady — also benefited from financial donations.)
“The roof of my room, it’s gone. It blowed down, and I don’t have any more toys,” little Andrea Boswell told us. “We have a little bit of holes in our trailer.”
Not only did this family need the extra financial help, but it made it extra neat because Tyler Boswell was one of the first people to selflessly get out and help others even though his home was among the hardest hit.
“No way,” he said after reluctantly receiving the donation. “I’m speechless.”
We were all out of words, out of breath, out of energy and out of bug spray at times during our time in Victoria. Compassion and concern were in no short supply, though.
It was easy to feel overwhelmed when you looked around and saw the massive mess, especially knowing this was just one small town in a large chunk of the Lone Star State that had been pummeled by wind and rain.
It feels amazing, though, to know that Texas is now in a little bit better shape than it was when we arrived.
“Thank you.” — everyone we helped