As images of Hurricane Harvey’s wrath flickered on the television screen, Buda Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director J.R. Gonzales knew there had to be something he could do to help.
With the assistance of several area businesses, the Buda Chamber collected and donated water, food and clothing to victims in Port Aransas, which was one of the hardest hit areas in the state.
Gonzales said the process began less than a day after Harvey made landfall. He heard of one business that was delivering pallets of water to the Houston area, which had over 50 inches of rain inundate the city.
But Gonzales said attention for many of the smaller coastal cities, such as Port Aransas, Rockport and Fulton, was lost when Harvey hit Houston.
Gonzales began reaching out to businesses in Buda that could raise awareness for a donation drive to help small coastal cities. One of those businesses is the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC), which is now headquartered in Buda.
Pauline Anton, president of TAMACC, said once the storm blew through the area, her organization worked to find out which cities needed help the most.
“We knew Houston was hit hard and was hit with something they weren’t expecting,” Anton said. “But they had resources there. It was the smaller cities we were most concerned about.”
Over the course of a week, the Chamber, along with Reliable Automotive, TAMACC and Ameriprise collected pallets of water and many boxes of clothing to the affected region.
During that time, Anton and TAMACC began coordinating donation efforts from around the state.
She said donations came in from as far as El Paso, Amarillo and South Texas. Some chambers donated office supplies for affected businesses, while others donated food, clothing and other needed items.
“We had chambers that were doing fundraisers to raise money, donating water or stuff for kids or for pets,” Anton said. “It didn’t matter. We were accepting everything.”
Getting the product to the coast, however, was a major hurdle the group had to overcome.
Help soon came in the form of Louis Navarro, who owns a Buda area concrete plumbing business. Gonzales said Navarro heard about the donation drive and wanted to provide assistance.
He did so by renting out a 24-foot U-Haul trailer to transport the material to the coast. Anton said Navarro not only rented the U-Haul, but also got a team together to assist in picking up and dropping off the items.
It didn’t take long, however, for the team to experience the widespread devastation.
Gonzales said he had never seen such destruction in his entire live. According to reports, almost 100 percent of the structures on Port Aransas suffered damage.
“Debris was everywhere,” Gonzales said. “It was strange where in one area, a house and building looked untouched, and next to it, the other building was destroyed.”
Anton said Port Aransas wasn’t the beautiful area “so many of us had enjoyed on vacation,” but was instead piles of trash and rubble.
But amid the devastation, the group also saw the best in humanity as well.
Gonzales said there was a “sense of community,” where people helped people, no matter who you were or where you were from. He recalled a convenience store, which was the only business open in town, which allowed residents to use functioning restrooms.
In one part of Port Aransas, several residents set up a makeshift cafeteria that served food for those trying to rebuild their lives. When residents came to eat, they did so together, no matter race, creed or background.
“All of the political nonsense in the world, none of that mattered,” Anton said. “You sat down and enjoyed your meal with fellow Texans.”
For Gonzales, the ability to step up and help fellow Texans is a “testament to who we are.”
He said ultimately people are there for each other. He believed if Central Texas had suffered a similar fate, other chambers and organizations would have also stepped up to help.
“It was a heartwarming experience to see the kindness and generosity of people,” Anton said.