‘We need to start collecting items. We need to help.’
Glen Davis, of Bay City, watched live as Hurricane Laura came ashore as a Category 4 storm early Thursday, August 27 near the Texas/Louisiana state line, tearing off roofs while knocking out power to hundreds of thousands.
Davis’s first thought was to count his blessings that he, his family, friends and business were out of the hurricane’s path. His second was reminiscent of the aid this area received nearly three years ago.
“I kept thinking that could be us,” Davis told The County Gin. “Because it was so dark I couldn’t really see the damage, but I could see the wind whipping the trees and then the next day came. The footage that I saw was devastating and I thought we need to start collecting items. We need to help.
“I made a post on Facebook announcing that we would start accepting collections at my business, Davis’ Daiquiri Barn in Bay City. Clint Hewitt with Serve Outdoors Matagorda Bay — an outdoor hunting and fishing organization for veterans, children and adults with disabilities, partnered with me to find rural areas in Louisiana that were left with absolutely nothing and in great need.”
Davis originally set the goal to fill a 20-foot, enclosed trailer with non-perishable food items, baby items, sanitary items, bottled water and cleaning supplies. Little did he know, the same desire to assist families faced with devastating living conditions was shared with fellow Bay City resident Kay Crain and the joint, community effort would lead to a near 30-vehicle-long caravan.
“What’s on my mind or should I say what’s (weighing) on my heart is (Hurricane Laura) is catastrophic and is going to leave a lot of people homeless and with a lot cleanup to do,” Crain wrote to her friends and family on social media. “Bill Bell Realty and Supreme Lending will be doing a ‘Fill the Trailer’ collection to take to Louisiana. We will deliver when our trailer fills up! So, let’s get it filled up QUICK!”
Word of the collection sites spread through the city of Bay City and throughout Matagorda County. Trailers began to be filled and monetary donations were collected to purchase other supplies like generators, gas cans, water tanks and building supplies.
‘He didn’t hesitate. He took over from there.’
“The items just started pouring in,” Crain told The Gin. “I don’t think the word ‘amazing’ really describes the support the community has shown. We had so many individuals and businesses drop off items and contributions. It just seemed like as soon as we would unload a car filled with donations another vehicle would pull up. It was just one after another.”
Crain said while this started as an independent, spontaneous effort, it all began to come together with the addition of Jessica and Kandas Grahman, of Sargent, and individuals and businesses from the Alvin area.
Once the delivery date was set, Davis reached out to Matagorda County Precinct 6 Constable Bill Orton to help organize an escort.
“I knew we might come across areas that would be blocked off to travelers due to the road conditions,” Davis said. “So, I got in contact with Bill to see if he wouldn’t mind helping us. He didn’t hesitate. He took over from there.”
Orton, who has seen his fair share of hurricane devastation, told The Gin the connections made through his 20+ years in law enforcement made the process of planning the escort very easy.
‘It wasn’t until we got onto I-10, that I realized those sirens and lights were for us.’
“I contacted Wharton County Precinct 2 Constable J.A. Szymanski, the Harris County Precinct 4 Office, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Chamber County Sheriff’s Office,” Orton said. “They all agreed to help us and would travel as far as they could. Some agencies like J.A. agreed to travel all the way to the drop off locations. The others asked me to contact them as soon as we were coming into that county and they would meet us.”
The meeting spot for all individuals pulling trailers and providing escort was set for 5 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 30 at Buc-ee’s in Alvin.
The caravan knew that traffic could cause arrival delay. Crain noticed lines of stagnant vehicles when entering on the entrance ramp onto I-10 in Harris County and sent messages to the group message to prepare for a long delay.
“I thought, ‘Wow. This is going to take forever.’ I saw lights and assumed we were approaching a wreck,” she said. “We kept moving, though. It wasn’t until we got onto I-10, that I realized those sirens and lights were for us.”
“The agencies really came through with getting us there and keeping us all together,” Orton added.
Szymanski told The Gin that the line of trailers seemed to go on for about half a mile or longer.
“I remember someone saying, ‘Well, that should be the last one,’” he said. “I had to reply to let them know that there were about 25 to 30 trucks, vehicles pulling trailers. It just seemed to go on and on.”
Szymanski continued, “Deputy Michael Moreno and I met the crew at Buc-ee’s and rode the entire way to assist them with getting there safely and to help unload items when we got there. The organization of this whole ordeal was pretty neat to see. We had the easy part, you know. We just drove there. All those people in the vehicles ahead and behind us were the ones that really did the hard work and planning.”
Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputies escorted the crew over the state line into Louisiana, and that’s where the caravan split up. Some went to deliver more north while Grahman, Davis, Orton, Crain and Szymanski continued down the coastline to Hackberry and Sulphur.
’It was worse than any one of us were expecting. These people didn’t have water, fuel or electricity.’
Crain said the tears and chills overcame her as they made their way into Louisiana.
“Oh, all I could do is start crying,” she said. “There were just trees and power line after power line down, covering the roads. I would see one standing house and then just mile-long of piles of rubble. Words cannot describe how overwhelming that feeling of heartbreak is when you see that.”
Szymanski agreed, saying, “It was almost three years to the day of when Hurricane Harvey hit Wharton County. What we saw in Louisiana was major wind damage and we’re not used to seeing that here. With us, it’s water. We still have power lines and houses standing. There, almost everything was flattened or laying down.”
‘When you know that people get back from evacuating to find their home completely gone and know that they have no electricity, no fuel and very limited water, you make it your duty to help.’
Davis said the roads were lined with downed power lines and trees.
“Even the trees still standing had no bark left on them,” Davis said. “The wind stripped it away. I can’t even count all the power lines we drove over. It was worse than any one of us were expecting. These people didn’t have water, fuel or electricity.”
The collected supplies were dropped at a church and community center in Hackberry and Sulphur and the group immediately decided that they would be back for a round two.
“The supplies that were there were very minimal quantities, and what we took will last for only a little while,” Davis said.
Szymanski said, “This isn’t going to be days or weeks for many people to recover. They are looking at months to years just for some to start the rebuilding process.”
Now that the group is back home to continue collecting items, they hope to describe the true devastation and the desperation for aid, in hopes of inspiring greater donation volumes.
“When you know that people get back from evacuating to find their home completely gone and know that they have no electricity, no fuel and very limited water, you make it your duty to help,” Crain said. “We know that bigger cities get the majority of supplies, so we feel it in our hearts to help those rural areas.”
The next departure is set to take place the weekend of Sept. 18. This trip, however, Davis and Crain will stay in Louisiana for a few days to cook hot meals for families picking up the pieces to their homes and lives.
“We are accepting monetary donations through Serve Outdoors Matagorda Bay to provide hot meals to the families,” Davis said. “We know canned goods and MRE’s are being utilized, but I would like to know that these families get at least one hot meal to help them feel some comfort.”
Orton continues to reach out to surrounding law enforcement agencies to encourage participation.
“I am in contact with Wharton, Orange, Chambers and Harris counties,” he said. “We are trying to see if anyone else would like to participate, whether escorts or hauling donations.”
For donation information and to follow updates, check Davis’s Daiquiri Barn, Matagorda County Pct 6 Constable’s Office, Kay Crain and the Wharton County Pct 2 Constable Facebook pages. Contact information, as well as departure times and plans will be announced through those pages listed.
Below is a gallery of photos submitted to The County Gin from the group that delivered supplies to Sulfur and Hackberry.