By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Ten months after Hurricane Harvey roared through Refugio, Texas, a group of Catholics from the West Point area drove into town to offer assistance.
Each house seemed to serve as a reminder of the hurricane’s lingering impact on the costal town that nearly 2,900 people call home. Rebecca Hannum of West Point, one of the service trip’s organizers, recalled that nearly every house had a new roof or tarp covering the roof or was awaiting installation of a new roof. “It’s overwhelming. The yards are a mess. You see siding that needs (to be repaired), windows still in disrepair. You see so many locations where work is still going on.”
The group spent four days in late June working with the Refugio County Volunteer Reception Center (RCVRC) to help residents with unmet needs. Director Dorey Williams said that the reception center relies heavily on volunteer groups from outside the Refugio area to perform unskilled labor because local residents are busy trying to rebuild their own homes and lives. “So many local residents are still trying to help themselves. They just don’t have the time or the means to help their neighbors. They are overwhelmed with their own devastation and need for repairs.”
Williams noted that in Texas it takes three insurance policies for a house to be completely covered in the event of a hurricane and premiums put full coverage out of reach for many. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funds helped, but not completely. The most common damage to homes has been blown-off shingles and the resulting water damage. Some underinsured households have been able to purchase supplies but not the labor.
A wall of sticky notes in the reception center is a visual reminder of the work that still needs to be done. Roughly 100 households have received assistance so far; about 250 projects are left to do, Williams said. The reception center is heavily dependent on volunteers and donations for jobs that require paid, skilled labor.
The Iowans helped at three homes during their mission. One household needed to have old shingles picked up, placed in a truck and hauled away. Another household required interior painting while a third needed to have water-damaged drywall and ceiling panels removed. Some group members performed exterior painting at the First Presbyterian Church in Refugio, which serves as headquarters for RCVRC and offers shelter to out-of-town volunteers.
Catholics back home in Iowa contributed to relief efforts through donations, which will be used primarily to pay for skilled labor for individuals who cannot afford it, Williams said. In the months leading up to the trip, students from Holy Trinity Schools in West Point and Fort Madison and members of parishes in West Point, Houghton, St. Paul and Farmington donated a total of $2,277.16. All of it was donated to the financial arm of RCVRC. In addition, the volunteers were allowed to use Holy Trinity Schools’ minivan and SUV to travel to Texas. The volunteers paid out of pocket for gas.
Hannum said the group got a lot done in four days, but they wish they could have done more. “It’s such a small amount of what is left to do.”
She said the experience was eye-opening and the parishes are considering the possibility of returning. “You can’t really understand until you see something like this. Even all these months later, it’s amazing to see the needs and the depth of the damage done.” Having made the trip, “you get a better understanding of what these people are going through.”