When faced with a violent storm, whether a literal or figurative one, the compassion of others means so much.
When word spread that St. Andrew Catholic Church in Pleasanton would begin taking in Hurricane Harvey evacuees, the community responded with an abundance of love, humanity and kindness.
When Father Gilbert Vallejo was on vacation last week, he had told parish staff member Debbie Shows to open up the hall if they received any calls from people needing to use it. On Friday afternoon, Shows received a call from Jesse Flores with the City of Pleasanton. Flores informed her that there were families at the park. He asked if they had the hall open.
“I said, ‘Well, I was told that if I get a call regarding this, to open up the hall.’ So I thought, there’s the call,” said Shows.
The parish hall was opened up and Shows began calling volunteers, letting them know evacuees were on their way needing a place to stay.
“One by one we started getting it put together. That is how it all came about. We went from observing the storm approaching to all of a sudden caring for people that are escaping it,” Shows said.
Initially, a small group came in. Three families arrived at the hall on Friday night and two more families on Saturday. Then there was a lull, since the county did not receive the heavy weather and flooding that had been anticipated.
“We thought we would have locals coming in with the flooding situation, but that didn’t happen.”
Shows explained with the devastation and flooding on the coast, they received calls and evacuees from Beeville, Mathis, Portland, Corpus Christi and other cities.
“There was a gentleman from Port Lavaca that is up here staying with relatives. He just came by to pick up some food,” Shows said.
One evacuee at the hall had just found out the back of his house was gone, said Shows. However, he was grateful to be safe and alive. Some of the evacuees assisted with sorting out clothes. On Sunday evening, they were expecting 20 to come in from Victoria.
“They thought it would take them two hours to get here, but it is taking longer, with the flooding in between here and there. So we are just praying for them. Hopefully they will get here safely.”
On Monday, they were awaiting the arrival of 150. A national news team with NBC also visited the parish hall over the weekend to shoot a video.
“At this point, it has become a bigger thing, because there are so many people displaced who have lost everything.” Many have shown up at the parish hall, dropping off donations and asking how they can help. Even young children have joined their parents in the effort. Volunteers have been assisting with lining up meals, preparing food, sorting through clothes, unloading vehicles, moving equipment and more.
As part of H-E-B’s Hurricane Harvey relief efforts across the state, H-E-B donated such items as pallets of water, diapers, wipes, feminine products, toothpaste, peanut butter, bread, oranges and crayons for the children. H-E-B Partners Aubrey Smith and Roel Garcia delivered the items to the hall over the weekend.
On Sunday and Monday, among some of the volunteers assisting were a large group of Pleasanton High School athletes, Boy Scouts from Troop 194, the Pleasanton Cowboy Homecoming Court and the Pleasanton Volunteer Fire Department, to name just a few. The first night, exercise mats were rolled out for evacuees to sleep on.
“Then we had some blankets to give them. Then we got the cots the next day,” Shows said. “Every time I meet somebody and get another contact, I put in my request and they say, ‘Okay, well we can do this and this.’ I now have a whole repertoire of contacts to help out with everything. So it’s really good. People have just been overwhelming today with everything that they have brought in,” Shows said.
When it all began, it was mainly parishioners volunteering, but now they are coming in from all over. Shows even received a phone call from someone in Illinois. They heard about what was going on and wanted to send something through Amazon as a donation.
Diane Lopez, one of the many volunteers on Sunday, had just dropped off her husband at work and decided she wanted to help. She sorted through toiletries like shampoo and hand soap, to prepare bags for evacuees.
Another volunteer, Debbie Mills felt blessed to wake up and realize that Pleasanton had dodged a bullet by not getting the bad weather expected.
“I felt like I needed to give back, so I cleared out my calendar for today, tomorrow and Tuesday and told Debbie (Shows) I would be here to help her, in any way possible,” Mills said. “It started off small and it has just grown beyond imagination. It is so wonderful to see all the people coming out and donating their time, especially sorting through clothes. I am really pleased with everything that has been done.”
Shows said they are collecting many items- clothing, bedding, toiletries, diapers, food to feed the evacuees and shoes. Also especially needed are dried goods, gift cards, supplies such as laundry soap,dish soap, bleach, pillows and pillow cases, disposable gloves, first aid supplies, face cloths, underwear, socks, school supplies and deodorant.
If you would like to assist, simply stop by St. Andrew Parish Hall, located at 626 Market St. in Pleasanton. You may also contact Debbie Shows at 830-281-0067.