In the aftermath of the three hurricanes that struck the United States in the summer, the RI Community Food Bank awaited the call for assistance as Feeding America, the national network of food banks, assessed the need. When the call came to assist the Southeast Texas Food Bank in Beaumont, Texas, about a week after Hurricane Harvey, the RICFB asked its operations staff for volunteers. From among those who volunteered, we selected Receiving Supervisor Charlie LeClerc and Driver Joe Reynolds.
Beaumont is in East Texas, near Louisiana, and it was struck hard. The Southeast Texas Food Bank serves an area that is over five times the size of Rhode Island, but with less than half of the people. As they landed in Houston, Charlie and Joe were immediately confronted by what Hurricane Harvey had done to the area.
“As we were getting our rental car, a lady there told us her neighbors were on their roof for 36 hours with 25 feet of water in one area. She was stuck in her apartment for five days,” says Joe.
As they moved through the region, the devastation was apparent. “People were just lining up everything outside their houses, they were cutting out their sheetrock, and their furniture. You’d just pass pile after pile,” remembers Charlie.
Joe points out that most stores and groceries had been flooded by water around 10 feet high. In the Beaumont area, levees were opened to prevent even more catastrophic flooding, but that meant many homes downriver were inundated with water. There was no potable water, food had spoiled, and most businesses were closed. Many lost their homes, and hotels were full in the area, leading many of the displaced to stay in tents at area homeless shelters.
When they arrived at the Southeast Texas Food Bank, they first helped with getting the warehouse made more orderly. At one point, they received about 80 truckloads of potable water in a single day. On average, for the two weeks they were there, Charlie and Joe pulled long work days helping where they were needed. In the first week, they set up temporary drop points for area residents to collect food and water, as many of the pantries were still closed.
Everywhere they went, Joe and Charlie were shown pictures of the devastation and the flooding. Still, the spirit of the people was good. “It was inspiring,” says Charlie, “the different denomination churches, they would let the other denominations use their church at night after they were in church during the day. They really came together to help each other. It was really cool to see.”
Joe adds, “They were very thankful for the volunteers, even the people at the Food Bank, they showed a lot of gratitude for us being there.”
The Southeast Texas Food Bank’s Executive Director Dan Maher sent this email along to the RICFB:
“We were truly blessed to have help provided the past two weeks by Charlie and Joe from the RI Community Food Bank staff. They were great to work with, brought great spirit, and fit in well with our Operations staff. By loaning them, you have invested in our community’s long-term recovery, and for that, I am truly grateful.”
Joe points out, in the long-term, the need for many will be the displacement caused by the flooding. With the mold and water damage, “it’s a lot of inspections that are going to have to happen before they can even begin construction, never mind finishing construction and getting back in their homes and moving on with their lives.”