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Houston, a Hauler, and the Meaning of Hope

Alejandro Reyna ’17 – The Wednesday evening before hurricane Harvey made landfall, I joined my brother, Dorian, for a drag racing event in Terre Haute, Indiana. My brother owns a diesel performance shop in our hometown of Houston, and we left his shop with his photographer, one of his mechanics, and his 45-foot trailer hauling his seven-ton race truck. After realizing how severe the flooding in Houston was, the trip was cut short, and we left Terre Haute Sunday morning. The plan was to leave the race truck in College Station, Texas to make more room in the trailer and spend the nearly $10,000 donated by other diesel performance shops around the U.S. on supplies for shelters in Houston.

Alejandro (left) gathers supplies for Hurricane Harvey.

We arrived at College Station Monday afternoon and emptied the trailer. Victor, the shop’s photographer and social media guru, made a post on the shop’s Facebook page, and the Texas A&M Aggie community was tipped off. The first 30 minutes after pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot were chaotic. So many students were already waiting to load food, supplies, and over 200 cases of water. To be honest, I actually teared up. For the next four hours, college students dropped off what were obviously snacks and supplies they had just purchased for their upcoming semester. We realized more than seven tons of supplies had been donated when we noticed how the much the trailer tires were bulging.

We arrived at a church in northwest Houston and so many parishioners showed up that we unloaded the supplies in under 30 minutes. All these strangers kept asking “Where are y’all from?” and with a smile my brother told them, “Just ten minutes down the road.” He was not joking and as much as we would have loved to go home, the freeways to get further into Houston were all flooded. We had no choice but to go back to College Station.

Though we could not get home, we were blessed when we got back to College Station. A current freshman at A&M who had helped us load supplies earlier that day invited us to his dad’s restaurant. Even though he had class the next morning, he cooked six meals and was adamant that we not pay. It was already midnight by the time we left and my brother got a phone call that one of his friends had booked and paid for two hotel rooms.

Tuesday morning, we set up at the same Wal-Mart parking lot. Later that night, we unloaded the trailer at a high school shelter in East Houston that was running low on food. A school board member walked us into one of their two gymnasiums. Not one of us was ready for what we saw. Hundreds of families and individuals that had been evacuated from their homes were now taking shelter at this high school. This was the hardest moment of the week for me.

What are you supposed to feel after walking out of a shelter knowing that those families might have lost everything, or worse, someone? Some of these parents’ eyes were red and swollen, and my brain tried to reconcile the emotions from that image while watching children running around playing. Those kids had just met for the first time earlier that day and were now carrying on with being kids.

The only thing that I could feel was hopeful because feeling anything else such as thankful that anyone I knew wasn’t in that shelter just felt wrong.

Trailer with supplies donated for Hurricane Harvey

I continue feeling hopeful because the solidarity I saw those three days was present at Wabash College, my alma mater and a tiny liberal arts school in the middle of Indiana, and a million other places around the U.S. I am hopeful and optimistic that all of the support from selfless individuals will remind those affected families that they are not alone. Even if you don’t catch their name or meet them, someone is always there to help.

Wednesday, we headed to Austin, Texas, where U.S. Army Veteran and Purple Heart recipient Sgt. Omar “Crispy” Avila had coordinated the donation of enough supplies to fill the trailer for the third time. This trailer full was dropped off at a church in North Houston. Veteran Sgt. Omar goes by Crispy because he was badly burned in Iraq after his convoy was bombed. Crispy is now a veteran charity advocate and finds any way he can to help others.

That afternoon, my brother made the decision to head to his shop for the first time in over a week. He parked the trailer outside his shop and walked onto his property. Friends and family had been there all day helping with demolition as the entire property flooded more than four feet, but when they saw him, the completely stopped what they were doing. Everyone knew this was a dreadful sight for my brother. The office, breakroom, and computer systems were destroyed. In his truck yard sat over 50 diesel trucks whose cup holders were filled with water. In that moment, he realized his business and livelihood were at stake.

No time to lose. We all got to work cleaning, and, after about an hour, Crispy showed up. He bought my brother a new printer, computer, and phone so that my brother could be back in business. For the next week, the shop had friends and family show up to help clean.

My brother Dorian is the one person I personally know who was affected by hurricane Harvey. He is the same man who was leading the effort to transport supplies using his trailer. Not once during those three days did I think my big brother and role model would be affected so directly. Even during the week of rebuilding and cleaning, my brother and his wife coordinated a clothing drive at their shop and received and helped distribute an 18-wheeler worth of relief supplies sent to them by friends in Maryland. He’s my role model for a reason.

My experiences taught me true solidarity, the meaning of hope, and how important it is to answer the call when someone needs help. Sometimes the call comes from a friend or family member and your duty to them is binding. But sometimes that call comes unexpectedly from strangers and duty binds us more so than ever.