I have been in CERT, Community Emergency Response Team, since 2006. That is where I met Stephanie, my ex wife who the first two books are about. CERT helps local first responders in times of need. Hurricane Ike which hit Galveston, Texas a few years ago was one such time.
While we were members of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), we never had a disaster in our area where we were called up to help the fire or police department. But that changed when Hurricane Ike slammed into Galveston and Houston. At first, nothing happened that affected us except for my daughter Jane fleeing Galveston. But then, we were contacted by Officer Monty Lambert; and we knew we were being called up to help.
We were told to assemble at that Fort Worth ISD sports facility near the college north of I-20 that Sunday evening to help dispense drinks and snacks from the Red Cross to busloads of refugees coming into the area. We drove down there and joined the CERT members . There were some Fort Worth police officers and a TV crew. So, we stood around with our CERT vests on and waited for the buses to show up. Monty was talking on his radio and then came over to address us. He said the buses were near Fort Worth and would be arriving in groups or singly. Then we braced ourselves for the arrival of the fleet of buses, not knowing exactly what to expect.
And they started coming in. We divided up into teams of two—one team for each bus—and climbed aboard the buses filled to the brim with people from the coast, all tired and a bit grumpy. We walked down the aisles, passing out the cold water and handing out bags of chips or cookies to the adults and children in each seat. A few thanked us and a few complained about the limited selection of snacks. We simply said they would soon be at a real shelter where there would be meals and more drinks. We stepped out of the buses, which soon left for their final destinations. The TV crew never came over to see any of this. I guess there was not enough drama for this to get on the news.
After awhile of handing out the drinks and snacks, it became apparent that the Red Cross supplies had almost been exhausted. Someone would have to go to the Red Cross HQ near downtown to get more for the next batch of buses, which was coming from East Texas and bringing the refugees from a shelter that itself had to be evacuated due to storm damage. Monty started seeking volunteers, and we stepped forward since we had a truck, which could carry a large amount of supplies.
We climbed in the truck and followed the man from the Red Cross to their HQ on Riverside, east of downtown.
Inside the building, there was a scene of controlled chaos. The staff of the Red Cross was busy getting shelters set up, staffed, and supplies staged to the many locations scattered across the region around Fort Worth. We soon learned that supplies were scarce, but we did get some. We loaded up the truck and returned back to the bus staging area, unloading it for the next group of displaced citizens.
Later, more buses came by filled with tired and dazed people who simply wanted a place to be comfortable and get a hot meal. We handed out water and chips again to similar thanks and gripes as before. We left for home when the overnight shift came on to relieve us, and we were done for the day.
During the work week, we were not needed; but the next weekend we were called up again to staff the Emergency HQ at the Police Academy. That day was anticlimactic compared to the previous weekend. We just answered a few phone calls and forwarded messages to the Fort Worth emergency management staff, who were in the room with us. No more buses filled with tired and griping people or scurrying around to find more supplies. We just sat in a big and mostly empty auditorium, which was normally used for classes, and relayed information from one group to another.
And yet our mundane efforts that second weekend did affect the masses of refugees without us seeing the actual results of our work.
In fact, that is the lesson to be drawn from those two weekends. There is more than one way to help those who need our help. You can do something hands-on like go on a crowded bus, or you can work behind the scenes where no one will ever know whom you are or what you did. You don’t have to give a lot of money or be in the public eye to help out your fellow man, but at least make the effort, even in a small way, to help someone else from time to time. Who knows? The next time something bad happens, you might be one of the people on the bus looking for a drink and a snack from someone you don’t know.