By Kim Hilsenbeck
Wimberley and San Marcos dominated the news from the recent flooding in Hays County.
With preliminary damage estimated to be as high as $32.7 million by some reports, Hays County has been declared a Disaster Area by the state and by President Barack Obama.
But the effects of the Memorial Weekend flooding is also being felt by a few local employees, and the resources and options for financial help are flooding in, through such crowd sourcing websites such as GoFundMe and CrowdWise.
Many stories since the flood has been reported, and the generosity of Hays County residents toward their friends and neighbors shows resiliency and what it takes to survive such a tragic event.
Armando Martinez, 46, isn’t used to being in the spotlight. When the recent Memorial Day weekend floods ruined his RV home in Martindale, he was devastated. But soon, he was overwhelmed by the attention on his loss.
Martinez is the head custodian at Carpenter Hill Elementary School in Buda. Walking through the halls, nearly every student greets him by name.
He patted one girl on the head as he walked by.
A little boy told him, “You should be married to somebody.”
Another boy was standing near the restroom.
“Mr. Rodriguez, where are you supposed to be?”
He was waiting for his mom.
During the interview, students knocked on the door periodically.
“I need a cardboard box.” “Can I have a trash bag?” “Is there any blue construction paper?”
Another request for a cardboard box came in.
“Cardboard boxes are a hot commodity this time of year,” he said.
Martinez is one of those employees who is liked and respected by nearly everyone he encounters. Parents greet him, teachers stop to talk with him and the administrative staff couldn’t say enough good things about him.
Within days of the flood, Carpenter Hill teacher Rachel Wagstaff set up a GoFundMe account to help him get back not just his home but all of his tools for his side jobs. He does indoor painting and occasionally car detailing on the side. The floodwaters destroyed his paint sprayer, several saws, a carpet shampooer and other electrical equipment.
Donations to the fund were in increments of everything from $20 to more than $100.
As of Monday, the account had a balance of more than $23,400. Martinez said he was blown away by the generosity of the Carpenter Hill community.
“I can’t believe it,” he said.
Martinez said he and his neighbors were evacuated at about 2:30 a.m. May 24. The fire department woke him by pounding on the door. They gave him about 40 minutes to get out.
Martinez was able to get most of his clothes, but most of everything else in the RV was under several feet of water for about five hours.
The money raised will help him replace the RV and his tools.
But Martinez is humble about the help.
“I don’t ask for much. My dad always taught us if you don’t have it, it’s for a reason, you know. I didn’t ask for nothing,” he said. “Now that it’s happened, I’m ecstatic. But I’m not used to that. I’m from a little town. You take care of yourself. But for this to happen to me, it’s amazing.”
He said he’s had several people tell him that the high amount of donations is not just Hays County generosity; it’s because of who he is and what he does.
“People tell me, if you weren’t doing your job or doing something right –– you must be doing something right to have this kind of money put into an account,” he said.
“I appreciate everything the community has done for me. I appreciate all the parents that donated and bought me lunch and bought me clothes,” he said.
In addition to the crowd funding, he’s also received cash and gift cards totaling about $1,700. He picked up a check from his desk for $100 as an example.
“Thank you for everything. I’m really amazed and surprised. I never in a million years thought it would get that big. I can not only buy a new RV but every tool I lost.”
Martinez swears he’s not going to take the money and go to Vegas or live on the beach.
“I love this job. I love the kids, the parents,” he said.
And while his loss was great, he said the generosity shown to him was greater.
“Something bad happened but something great came out of it. I’m blessed. Very blessed,” he said.
The past few months have been a rollercoaster for Hays High teacher and tennis coach Debbie Cook.
She will retire from teaching after 31 years with Hays CISD at the end of this semester. Cook planned to travel and substitute teach on occasion. She paid off her car. She paid off her house. That same house and much of her stuff – including a separate woodshop in a metal building – was damaged in the Memorial Day weekend flood. Then last week she found out that the Hays CISD Board of Trustees voted to name the tennis courts after her.
They will bear the name the Debbie Cook Tennis Center.
Cook said she’s feeling a little overwhelmed these days.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” she said Monday.
Yet she said she is so grateful to everyone who pushed to get the courts named after her. She is also grateful to everyone who offered help, money and support over the past two weeks.
“Most everybody in this department had been to my house [to help],” she said.
Many of her friends are teachers and they’ve helped clean up her flood damaged home, wash her mud soaked clothes and even donated money. Teacher Devi Puckett started a crowdfunding campaign through Crowdwise. As of Monday, the account balance was more than $20,000.
Cook is awed and humbled, she said.
“I guess as a teacher you touch people, but now I’m seeing maybe I did do something different,” she said.
She was referring to the many comments people wrote when they donated. Students and tennis players (current and former), fellow teachers, parents and yes, even strangers gave money to Cook through the Crowdwise site.
Those who knew her told her how much they appreciated her. Those who didn’t said they felt she deserved the money based on what others said about her.
“It’s very humbling. It’s mind boggling,” she said.
Cook’s Martindale home is in the area the Blanco and San Marcos rivers converge. Her home flooded in 1998, but she said the water didn’t go very high.
This time, the water went up several feet. She got out of the house before water came in, but only took her dogs, one of their insulin medicines, her cell phone and charger. She sat in the Hobby Lobby and then the H-E-B parking lots. She said Hwy. 80 was a river.
In 1998, she didn’t have flood insurance. This time, she did. Yet it can’t replace photos, books, mementos and high school yearbooks. Her 1977 yearbook from Randolph High in San Antonio was a loss.
Another much bigger loss was a metal shed that served as her woodshop.
“It was a 12 x 30 building; I had a lot of tools from my dad. It had AC, a fridge, cable. It was decked out. I had ‘bout every tool there is,” she said.
Two days after the flood, Cook and some friends found the building on private property downriver. While she was amazed that it was still intact, having floated down the creek, she soon found that vandals got there first.
The owner of the property told her, “There were some boys down there; a man sent them down to look for his stuff.”
They told the woman they were taking them to a man named Hunter.
Cook called her neighbor, whose name is not Hunter, who had exactly the same building. She asked if he had sent any boys down to his building.
“‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
Cook said they got her wood sanders and some other things. The empty box for a new vertical compressor was outside the shed.
Despite the looters, Cook said the help and support from the community has been wonderful. She had students, tennis players, football players, Leo Club members, church members and even a group called Operation Blessing come out to help.
“One senior boy from my church and brought five friends out on Tuesday. I said, ‘Robert, aren’t you supposed to be in school?’”
He told her they skipped senior skip day to help Cook.
The father of one of her tennis players offered to re-carpet her home for free.
She was also impressed by the tenacity of volunteers. She said they didn’t whine, complain or take a break.
“It restores your faith in humanity,” she said.
https://www.crowdrise.com/CoachCook has raised $20,970
http://www.gofundme.com/MrMartinez has raised $23,450