Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

 The Distribution


Tuesday 9/16/08


Today was my grandmother’s 96th birthday, we had originally planned on being in East Texas to celebrate with her, but Ike sorta changed those plans. That area was our evacuation destination during Rita in 2005, but we knew from experience that the storm would probably just follow us up there and since the distance was so great we ran the risk of not having fuel to return. As it turned out, the storm did indeed go through my mom’s knocking down several big trees – some on the roof and one in particular taking out her power lines, which are still down. Seems I heard somewhere that Ike went from Galveston to Michigan in 24 hours leaving a nasty trail of destruction and interruption.


This morning each of us went our separate ways, The youngest (who is 20 by the way) went once again to assist his grandparents with their tree removal, my husband stayed at our home to do the same – with priority one being the clearing of the ditches so they would continue to flow. He said he could already see mosquito larva in the standing water. We have vacant lots near us so he made sure those ditches were flowing too – never know when it’s going to rain again. Then he continued to work in our yard. A several day process at the least.


Me, I went to the community center to see if I could be of assistance in whatever services they were going to offer the community. Upon arrival I noticed a huddle of “like t-shirts,” a group from the Catholic Charities Disaster Support. I went up to someone and said I was here to help - who should I report to? I was directed to the lady in the red hat and told her I was a local that was blessed beyond measure and wanted to help with their services to my community. I learned that they were awaiting their truck with supplies and that they would welcome the help. I then noticed my neighbors beginning to form the line by the center’s doors patiently waiting for whatever assistance would be available.


Moments later the big truck arrived laden with pallets and pallets of groceries. The load had shifted during transit and was a bit of a mess. First thing off  the truck were multiple white 8 foot tables. This group had a well orchestrated plan, they’d done this before. Tables were lined up and the unloading of the truck began. Two men were inside the truck breaking open the shrink wrap around the pallets and dispersing the contents to a line of willing hands who then took things to the tables. Others were at the tables organizing the different items. Due to the load shift it wasn’t necessary “in order” of like kinds – boxes full of individual cereal servings came off the truck the same time as boxes of baby wet wipes and peanut butter. The assembly of unloaders had to be directed to which tables for which wares. We worked at a fast almost urgent yet excitedly upbeat pace. Once some of the food items, diapers and water were off the truck several of the unloaders moved to different jobs preparing for the disbursements of the much needed items.. By now the line of waiting locals had grown and a few of the men from the community asked if they could help with the unloading also. I talked to one man from San Leon, the community just to our south that took a hard hit, who said all that was left was his garage. His trailer was totally destroyed, yet here he was with a smile on his face and willing hands to work for whatever assistance he would later receive. Again, I was overcome with the sense of community.


I need to add to the narration here a tad bit of my background. For almost 3 ½ years my family worked national special events vending ice cream  traveling to a new location weekly– we were used to unloading pallets of inventory, but in a “reefer” truck not a normal unrefrigerated truck. I knew to bring my gloves – and because of this I volunteered to be the one to handle and haul off the oak pallets once they were emptied and lowered down from the truck. Later, throughout the process of unloading one of the men got over heated inside the truck and was told to take a break. I shared that I had worked a truck before and asked if I could jump up and work inside the truck. Which I did. By that time we were to the back end where the cases of water and two or three remaining pallets of food had totally shifted being broken open and scattered. Quite a mess actually, slowing down the process of handing out complete units. It seems funny to say that this was right up my alley since many of my friends know me as a quilter, but this reminded me of my ice cream days – what was surprising to me was the realization of the difference that 9 years makes to my once young body as well as the difference of working in a truck that wasn’t negative 32 degrees (grin). Thankfully I got in on the last bit and not the beginning or I too would have had to take a break to keep from passing out. Our cool front was helping, but it was still in the high 80’s today.


Once the truck was unloaded I asked for a new assignment and was directed to the table where the assembly line started. Several of us were to double bag the plastic bag like the ones you get from the grocery - which isn’t an easy task; you know how hard it is to open those bags! it was kinda a slow start to an otherwise fast assembly line bagging process, hence the reason for multiple volunteers at that table. One the bags were double we then places inside two cans of soup then passed the bag on to the next table where two large cans of Spam were included, next came the two cans of Bush beans, then peanut butter. That’s about as far down the row as I worked. We tended to drift a bit as others came and went along this path of the process. Other items included canned chicken, pop tarts, peanut butter crackers, little boxes of cereal (great for kids to snack on), individual packages of pretzels, saltine crackers (each bag receiving two sleeves from the otherwise box of four) and cans of corn and green beans. I know there were also those kid drinks you puncture with a straw – I think they gave them out to the children as they came through the line, but I’m not sure. For those that needed it, there were diapers and wet wipes. But as I said, I was primarily between the soup and the spam. The lady working beside me from the Catholic Charities didn’t know my name and laughingly called me The Spam Lady – I told her I’d been called a lot of things in my life but never the Spam Lady! But that I would take that as a complement. Of course, when I shared the story with my family later I laughed and added ‘most folks either love or hate Spam’ so I’m not sure that was a good handle after all.


As we were bagging (literally for hours) the Red Cross arrived with hot meal service. I never got down the line to see what they were serving, but hot lunches were placed inside those Styrofoam to go boxes and bagged for families to take home. Each person was given an ice cold water bottle! And later the Red Cross volunteers made their way down through the grocery volunteers making sure each had a cold bottle of water. One man working next to me didn’t want to take it, as if he felt he would be taking away from someone else in need, but the Red Cross insisted that we all drink as to not get dehydrated or over heated. I heeded his instructions as I was already feeling the sunburn on my face and arms. That ice cold water sure hit the spot!


So began the process of serving our neighbors. First they would go through the hot food line and then continue the line going around the truck, checking in with a volunteer who made a list of last names and the number in the family, they were then able to pick up a bag of food (or more I guess if they had a large family, I’m not sure of the end of the line process as I was still working the Spam), those that needed baby items were given a box and then each family received a double bagged plastic bag of bottled water. I’m not sure how many bottles were in there, but I know everything was very heavy laden, and people were walking away with their arms full and smiles on their faces.


I saw two people from the neighborhood that I knew (we haven’t been here that long and since I stay inside most of the time quilting I really haven’t met my neighbors). One was a fellow quilter three streets up from me. She looked shell-shocked. I later learned her place was okay but her son lost everything; he lived in a trailer in San Leon. I also saw one of my favorite waitresses from the nearby Mexican Restaurant we frequent. I didn’t know her name, and I don’t speak Spanish although she’s bi-lingual. She recognized me from the restaurant and I did learn that her family was okay as well as she thought the majority of her co-workers were alright. We usually eat there once (sometimes twice) a week and “know” many of the workers, not by name but by their kind service and beautiful smiles. I guess you could say I was seeing my neighborhood with new eyes as I looked around to the people in need. So many children, so many elderly. These were my neighbors and shame on me for not meeting them before hand.


The people were so grateful. Everyone was kind, willing to wait in line, appreciative of the help. This was the first “outside” assistance our community had received, now 4 days after the storm. I’d heard the local Noah’s Ark restaurant was serving meals, I think there were some meals served at the Volunteer Fire Station and that the F.O.E (Eagles) were also serving dinners. The radio had said one of the FEMA PODS was in nearby Kemah, but the majority of our locals didn’t have the mode of transportation and with the majority without power they probably didn’t know of the distribution point anyway. It was basically up to our Constable Pam to post information on the Court House doors and then the neighbors to pass along word of mouth. It was wonderful to see her working along side the volunteer organizations and not just directing the efforts. A real true leader and concerned guardian of the neighborhood.


The process was over in about 4 hours. I walked home happy and blessed, but very very tired. I had worked muscles that hadn’t been worked in almost 9 years doing work that I did with a younger body. I knew I’d be sore the next day! Inwardly I smiled and told myself, it was worth it.


Our evening consisted of the blessings of a hot shower, warming up leftovers from the night before and another pick of DVD’s from my son’s vast collection. Our touch of normality. Again blessed sleep in a comfortable bed with a roof over our head. I couldn’t ask for anything more.


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