When Hurricane Harvey made landfall, l was tucked away safely at my weekend job at the Dilworth Inn and Suites. I was in an inside room, which some people may shy away from because inside room at the Dilworth means no windows. Typically when I stay on premises I choose an inside room because the rooms are quiet, dark and cold. Last weekend I chose the inside room because I dislike storms.
I spent some time last weekend with a grieving family. As Harvey approached I had this feeling come over me. I felt I needed to talk to my mom, keep my son close by, call friends and put things in order. I was obsessive and crazy. I was hovering and controlling. I was scared. Not only for myself but for the people Harvey would affect. I was worried for the coast and the suburbs. I was nervous for the people and animals.
After Harvey blew through Gonzales with 30 mph winds and 40 to 50 mph gusts, I relaxed a bit. Sunday’s sun brought me much relief. But Sunday turned out to be a day that brought me great grief, heightened compassion and sympathy.
Evacuees started to pour into town. They were exhausted, defeated and hopeless. I saw women crying and shivering, men unable to speak, children confused, and so many other heart-wrenching observations.
On Monday, the newspaper was closed. I set up “office" in the hotel. As my manager, and friend, Jenny worked with housekeepers to make rooms ready, I typed up news stories and folded sheets and towels to prepare rooms for the evacuees who would bring the hotel evacuees total to 42.
For the most part, these evacuees came with little-to-no money, few possessions and a lot of anxiety. Whole families were stuffed into rooms as comfortably as possible and the day went on - quietly, because these people were in such distress they slept all day.
As the day progressed it became apparent that these people had spent all their only funds to prepare for Harvey and their subsequent journey to safety in Gonzales. One by one they received news the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) would pay for their stay, but FEMA only pays for lodging. These people were out of their homes, out of money, out of clothes, and out of food.
Hotels provide breakfast — to varying degrees. That meal was under control. Lunch came and went and noticing none of the guests went for food, I decided to make some calls, since Jenny couldn't feed them cereal three meals a day.
Whataburger, the Rusty Rooster, Mr. Taco, La Bella Tavolla, Mr. G’s, the Gonzales Noon Lions, First Baptist Church, many individuals, as well as the employees of A&S Recycling, all pitched in. I was blown away. These people who were so lost and out of sorts were being cared for — by the entire community.
On top of food donations, many other items were donated. We got diapers and wipes from the local Child Protective Services (CPS). We got more diapers and some hygiene products from First Baptist. We got books, thanks to the Robert Lee Brothers Memorial Library. People poured in with toys and clothes and shoes.
It was amazing. I spent approximately 48 hours (off the clock) being amazed and sharing in pure love.
What happened after the donations? The little girls played dress up — Disney Princess, Hello Kitty, and Barbie ensembles were put together and presented runway-style. The boys played with trucks and balls and hats. The teens played games and sketched. Two little ones even drew pictures for Jenny and me. What a transformation in moods and well-being!
I have been on a little bit of a kick lately. I'm pro unity. I have said in previous columns I want to see Gonzales unite. I want to see Texas unite. I want to see the United States unite. I want to see the world unite.
So, Gonzales united this past week. We are proof to ourselves unity is possible. We can do it! Hopefully we can continue with the unity when we are not in a state of disaster.