When the East Texas Food Bank asked for volunteers to go to Beaumont to help the Southeast Texas Food Bank, Manuel Gomez and Damon Smith were the first to raise their hands. The longtime friends and co-workers were not going to stand by while there were Texans in need and they could help.
They loaded up one of the food bank's box trucks and headed to the Beaumont area.
"It was a humbling experience," Gomez said. "It was eye-opening to see the devastation in our own state. It was great to see the smiles on their faces and how thankful they were to have food and water."
While Gomez and Smith were in the Beaumont area delivering truck loads of water and food to the outlying areas served by the Southeast Texas Food Bank, their co-worker and teams of volunteers in Tyler were taking in donations that would eventually end up in Beaumont.
"It takes a big heart and a strong back to do what we do," said East Texas Food Bank CEO Dennis Cullinane. "We've been on conference calls with Feeding America, Feeding Texas and the other food banks in Southeast Texas. We've been working hard to meet our needs as well as help them out."
The East Texas Food Bank became a staging area for the shipments of donations going down to Beaumont and Houston. The employees and teams of volunteers unloaded semitruck loads of donations from corporations such as Kellogg's and The Campbell's Soup Company.
As the food, water and hygiene supplies came off the trucks in Tyler it was turned around and sent down to the Beaumont and Houston areas.
"We're playing a big role in the Beaumont recovery," Cullinane said. "They've distributed about 1.4 million pounds of food about one third of that has come through us in Tyler."
Gomez and Smith were reluctant to split up. As far a they were concerned they came together, and were determined to work the entire two weeks side-by-side. The team worked to unload semis at the food bank and loaded their truck and went to Orange, Jasper and Port Arthur with water and food.
"At an elementary school in Port Arthur, the entire town came together to unload food and water from two semitrucks and box truck," Smith said."Cars were lined up down the road to get food and water. I learned that hunger doesn't discriminate when I saw people from all walks of life and social classes waiting to get food and water."
The food bank will continue to provide support in Beaumont. Two other employees joined the Southeast Texas team Monday and Gomez said he is going back next week for another two weeks.
The needs in Texas will be great as the holidays approach. The East Texas Food Bank is prepared for the long process of recovery that is expected to put stress on families who are displaced, without jobs and without an income.
They have worked diligently to make sure that 100 percent of the donations for disaster relief go towards that purpose. That includes over $58,000 that was raised in two hours by the local Whataburger franchises and their customers on Sept. 8. Whataburger donated 100 percent of their profits during the lunch hours to the Harvey Relief fund drive. The money will help the food bank continue their support for the ongoing recovery efforts in Southeast Texas.
"This will be a long-term process," Cullinane said. "We're here for the long haul to meet the needs here and to assist with the recovery in Beaumont and Houston."