By Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald
People from across Bell and Coryell counties came together last week, unified in a singular way.
A woman, touched by a photo in a newspaper. Two best friends. A pair of restaurant owners.
They saw the heartbreaking images of the Bastrop fires, raging across a community that felt all too close to home. They wanted to help and they did.
On Sunday, Sept. 4, Sheryl and Walter Brown, owners of Big Hoss BBQ in Killeen, closed their restaurant after a long day of serving customers.
When Walter Brown turned on the television, it became clear that their work was far from over.
The Browns were gripped with one uniform idea: They had to help.
Walter Brown said they did the only thing they knew they could do - they cooked, The couple packed their van with warming trays and takeout boxes and drove to Bastrop.
"I didn't even know where to go," Walter Brown said. "We just headed down there."
The Browns found Bastrop's command center, where teams of volunteers were coordinating relief efforts.
They arrived with 550 barbecue sandwiches, ready to serve volunteers. A long line of hungry workers formed as the Browns began to serve them.
"They smelled like smoke," Walter Brown said. "My eyes were burning from the smell. They had soot all over, on their faces and clothes."
The family didn't stop serving food until after midnight. They drove back to Killeen early Tuesday and returned to Bastrop Tuesday afternoon with another 550 sandwiches.
On Monday afternoon, Sept. 5, in Killeen, Laura Marley saw a picture of the fires in Bastrop, a community that, as she put it, "could have just as easily been here."
The Fort Hood contractor headed off to her part-time bartending job at Razzoo's in Harker Heights with an idea - she would donate her tips from that night's shift and donate it to the wildfire victims.
She earned $140 that night. Word of Marley's idea spread to other staff members, who also wanted to donate their tips.
Razzoo's general manager Matt Hubbard said his staffers' generosity inspired the idea for the restaurant to host a fundraiser Monday in which all tips in the bar and cocktail area would be donated to the Austin Disaster Relief Network.
"Our goal is to try to get $5,000," Hubbard said. By 4 p.m. Monday, the drive had raised almost $2,000, which included a $1,500 donation from Razzoo's.
Early Tuesday morning, Sept. 6, when the Browns were preparing another batch of food for Bastrop volunteers, Laurel Ann Mack received a phone call from her best friend, Nicole Fary, who was devastated by the images of fire-ravaged homes.
The two women began sifting through their closets, filling bags with clothes to donate. Then, they decided to see if others wanted to help.
Mack contacted the owners of Wild Country nightclub in Harker Heights, who let the pair use their parking lot Wednesday as a drop-off site for a donation drive.
Wild Country posted an announcement on their Facebook page.
Mack said people started to take notice of the event and contacted her through the social networking site.
One of the people who took notice was Kelsey Brody Kilter, account manager at Cumulus radio, which owns 105.5 and 106.3 in Killeen. The stations immediately began announcing the event and planned live broadcasts.
Mack said within a few hours of the drive, more than several hundred people had showed up with donations.
"It blew up bigger than anything we expected," she said.
A semi-truck donated by Wilsonart in Temple dropped the goods off in Bastrop on Friday.
Other businesses and civic groups answered the call for help. Joker's Icehouse, Killeen Kettle and Fort Hood Harley Davidson accepted donations at their respective locations.
At Grace Christian Church in Killeen, donations started coming in on Thursday after an announcement during a church service Wednesday. By Saturday, church volunteers drove three vans filled with donated items to the Bastrop Church of Christ, which was serving as a shelter and donation drop-off point.
The church is still accepting donations and plans to take another trip down by Thursday.
"I think there are a lot of people who have good hearts," Walter Brown said. "They see the need. Even though it's a community that's 150 miles away from us."