Remembering Our Hurricane Harvey Heroes
As we approach the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s destructive toll on the Texas Coastal Bend, we cannot help but reflect on the millions of lives that were impacted by the monumental flooding and storm damage. One of the things that will be remembered most is the strength and resilience of the people who came together to help one another.
In the days following Harvey’s landfall, images and stories began to emerge of people and communities around the state answering the call for humanitarian aid and relief response. They assisted with water rescues, helped funnel much needed supplies to hard hit areas and orchestrated massive clean-up efforts. We dubbed them our Harvey Heroes, and members of our PlainsCapital Bank family were among them.
While much of the news focused on the catastrophic flooding in Houston, Rockport, Texas, was ground zero for the hurricane landfall. Four days after the category four storm slammed into the seaside town on Aug. 25, 2017, PlainsCapital Bank McAllen Market President Albert Chapa and McAllen Branch President Brad Williams mobilized a team of South Texas volunteers and headed up the coast. Their objective: provide as many free meals as possible to the displaced residents and emergency personnel in Rockport. This is their story.
In the hurricane’s immediate aftermath, McAllen Market President Albert Chapa recognized that Texas’ lower Rio Grande Valley had dodged Harvey’s bullet. However, he couldn’t shake the images and news reports of the storm’s devastation along the coastline. Chapa spoke with Brad Williams, McAllen branch president, and in short order they decided to pull together a small group of volunteers and take the PlainsCapital Bank cooker—used for charitable events—up the coast to provide free meals to Harvey’s victims.
“Initially, we weren’t sure where to go,” said Chapa. “Corpus Christi’s infrastructure was still intact, and the situation there didn’t seem to be as dire compared with other places. When I reached out to friends from Rockport and Port Aransas, they encouraged us to go to Rockport.”
Chapa tried contacting the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and a few local Rockport churches, but couldn’t connect with anyone. Furthermore, locating available hotel rooms in the area was proving to be a challenge. That’s when Williams said, “Let’s just go. The need is now. Let’s go.”
The next day, Wednesday, August 30, 2017, the team purchased food, water, and supplies and went to work prepping meals.
“Burgers were the most efficient way for us to provide that many meals to that many people,” said Chapa.
The group of volunteers was comprised of five PlainsCapital Bank employees—Chapa, Williams, Upper Rio Grande Valley Market President Larry Gonzalez, Commercial Loan Officer Armando Martinez, and Lobby Services Supervisor Michael Rios; a couple of Chapa’s close friends—McAllen brothers Richard and Thomas Perez; and one of the Bank’s longtime customers, Dr. Marco Gutierrez.
The team left McAllen at around 5 a.m. Thursday, August 31, with three vehicles including a U-Haul truck loaded with supplies and a pickup truck with the PlainsCapital cooker in tow. They arrived in Rockport a few hours later, shocked by the destruction before them—buildings demolished, boats submerged, and vehicles piled on top of one another.
Navigating the debris and road closures in and around the city, they eventually spotted a crowd of people in an old, unused HEB grocery store parking lot that was serving as a staging area for FBI, TXDOT, Texas Border Patrol, police, fire, and emergency medical personnel. One of the staging area coordinators walked up to their group and said, “If you guys are here to help, we could really use it.” Soon he was guiding the team to a place where they could set up their cooking station.
“It was as if they had been waiting for us,” said Chapa.
A few local volunteers helped the team unload their supplies, and by 11 a.m. they were serving hamburgers to all of the first responders and community residents on-site.
“The burgers were going as fast as we could make them,” Chapa remembers. “Up until that point, all anyone there had to eat were packaged military MREs (meals ready to eat). Everyone was so appreciative of what we were doing.”
By 3 p.m. the McAllen contingent had run out of food. They had served approximately 600 meals.
In the flurry of activity, they were unaware that just a short distance across town Vice President Mike Pence and Texas Governor Greg Abbott were addressing the media and visiting with hurricane survivors. It was a whirlwind experience for the group that all came together on the fly.
“Sometimes you just have to get up and go,” said Chapa. “We saw that firsthand. When your intentions are good, everything falls into place. Those people needed our help. There is no way they could have fed everyone that day.”
According to Chapa, the trip home was bittersweet. While the team was proud of the assistance they had provided, they also recognized the tremendous need they left behind.
Chapa recalled a family they came across who had lost everything and were just sitting in the back of a pickup truck with seemingly dazed and lost expressions on their faces.
“We saw so many people’s lives exposed that day,” said Chapa. “Those images will stay with us.”