They came from as close as Garth Drive in Killeen and as far away as Woodstock, Illinois. No matter where the origin, volunteers made the shelter at Fairway Middle School in Killeen run effectively enough to house more than 450 Hurricane Harvey evacuees.
Wayne Almond could have been watching television at his home just two blocks away, and no one would have blamed him. The Vietnam-era veteran who worked for the Army for 32 years, first as a soldier, then at Fort Hood as a civil service employee, was in the hospital just three weeks earlier. He suffered a stroke — his 11th in five years — a little over a month ago, and uses his new electric wheelchair to get around. When he heard a shelter was opening up across the street, he made a decision to help.
“I feel like if I can’t do nothing else, I can talk to them,” he said. “If they want to cry, I got a shoulder.”
Almond said that some days, he spent as much as 12 hours a day at the shelter before he headed home. He might be wheelchair bound, but he hasn’t let that deter him. As he gave his interview to the Herald, an evacuee who since coming to Killeen ran out of money, came up to him. Almond was going to pay him to mow his lawn and trim the bushes. Another time, he handed out $20 bills. When the Fairway Middle School residents said there wasn’t much to keep them occupied, he reached out to his friends and organized live music. Next on the list is a karaoke machine.
“They probably can’t sing, but they want to give it a try,” he said.
Meanwhile, Red Cross Shelter Manager Jackie Speciale, a resident of Woodstock, Illinois, is technically on vacation. Some people dream of a tropical destination or a week at a ski lodge. Speciale requested two weeks of vacation from her boss and hopped on a plane to Killeen. Her husband’s back home, going into work late every day this week so he can drop their children off at school.
“For each person you see here with the Red Cross, there’s four or five people behind them,” she said.
She stood in the library with Jason Humphrey, another Red Cross volunteer from the Midwest. The Akron, Ohio, resident was volunteering in his fifth natural disaster. His volunteer work has brought him to Arkansas for tornado relief and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. He works as a security guard at concerts, so his work schedule has a bit more flexibility than most. But still, he dropped everything, for the fifth time in his life, to help those who needed it.
“Somebody’s taking care of my dog,” he said with a laugh.
Carmen Ortiz is pregnant, eight months to be exact, but that hasn’t seemed to slow her down at all. She’s a full-time student at Central Texas College, but took a semester off because she’s expecting. It conveniently allowed her to help out Hurricane Harvey victims.
The mother-to-be is power walking everywhere. In the Fairway Middle School Library, there used to be books. Now there are shoes, bottles of shampoo, extra phone chargers and other supplies for evacuees. Carmen walks by on the phone, and makes a statement calmly and urgently at the same time.
“I need toothbrushes and toothpaste. Yeah, you need to bring them down here because there’s a need for them,” Ortiz said.
Most people expect women who are less than a month away from having a child to sit on the couch with their feet up. Ortiz, sporting a blue and white shirt that says “arriving soon,” decided to spend it directing volunteers on where to bring supplies.
“Everyone’s been like ‘Are you OK? Do you need to sit down?’ They’ve been really good,” Ortiz said. “This suits me. I’m an energetic little bunny.”
Monica Hall got off early from her hairdresser job at the Crave Hair Lounge in Killeen. She arrived at the volunteer sign-in table with hair clippers, a purple towel, a hair brush and a bottle of talcum powder. She asked if there was anyone staying at the Middle School who needed a haircut?
“I’m just giving back with the blessings God gave me: my hands,” she said.
Julia Burns was with the U.S. Army National Guard when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. She remembered seeing the devastation that came over the Mississippi town she was deployed to, and that stuck with her. So despite the fact that her Army days are behind her, she got to the shelter at 10:45 p.m. on Aug. 31, and worked until 6 a.m. the next morning. She spent 45 minutes getting her children ready for school, then sent them off and came straight back to the shelter to help out. Sometimes, all she did was “chew the fat” with them, but it seemed to make a difference.