Two Women and a Truck Help Put a Community Back Together
There is only one way in and out of River Oaks Drive in Conroe, TX, 30 miles north of Houston. When rain floods the street, the road is impassable. The city sends a crew—sometimes promptly, sometimes not—to pump the water farther down the street, toward Grants Lake so that residents can get to school and to their jobs, many in construction or domestic work.
The Latino community on River Oaks Drive was inundated a year ago by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Caught between the lake and the San Jacinto River, residents of the approximately 100 houses there are poor, below or near the poverty line. Some are undocumented. Some receive assistance from The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but many are not eligible for federal help because they do not own their homes or cannot prove that they do.
Episcopal Relief & Development supports the work of a ministry that has been there from the beginning and continues to serve residents. Abundant Harvest, a food ministry run by Molly Carr, is part of the work of St. Isidore, a church without walls led by missioner Sean Steele. The Abundant Harvest ministry has become a fixture in the community, a welcome weekly respite from a year of struggle.
Molly and her assistant Dulce Salas have been bringing food every Tuesday. People in the community know her and look forward to their visits as a time when they feel they are not forgotten or alone.
The community shares a meal and fellowship in front of a neighbor’s home. All are welcome. They say a prayer, eat and visit. Residents can take a meal home with them, and fill a bag or two with donated food items, diapers or other household supplies.
When I was there in August, Molly gathered all the neighbors and visitors together for a quick blessing of the food. Everyone moved toward the buffet tables that were set up in the driveway. Chicken fajitas, rice, beans and watermelon. It was quite a feast.
Molly and Dulce also distribute Home Depot cards to those who need help buying building materials to repair their homes.
Maria has lived on River Oaks for 18 years. She has a bubbly personality and knows just about everyone in the neighborhood. Maria’s family was forced to move out last December, into a FEMA-subsidized apartment where they lived for eight months. They moved back to their home on River Oaks the night before I visited. For several months, she and her husband Ambrosio, who works in construction, had been cutting tiles, putting up wallboard and painting. Between his work and hers–she is a house cleaner in the nearby community of the Woodlands–they are continuing to rebuild.
Maria was tired and scared after the storm hit last August, destroying much of her home. She didn’t know how they would get back on their feet.
“I prayed to God,” she said through tears, ”to send me an angel and he sent me these two, Molly and Dulce.”
Down the block, where the community shared the Abundant Harvest meal, Juan and Veronica mingled with all the others. Their boys Rohini and Christopher played soccer with some of the church volunteers who had come from Atlanta and Iowa, and 2 year-old Benjamin clung to his dad. Juan does construction work during the day. At night he works on his own house, trying to get it back into move-in shape. They rent a shotgun house a few doors down while repairing their own.
Outside Francisco and Irene’s house, Francisco sweeps up the debris from another day of repairing the family house. When I visited, he had just about finished installing insulation in the floor. Irene and their two children, 6 and 7, are able to prepare meals again now that he has rebuilt the family’s kitchen.
Francisco has his own small carpentry business, and time away from it means less money. But they can’t afford to pay someone else to do the work, so they do it themselves.
When I visited, virtually every home on River Oaks Drive was in some phase of rebuilding. Three men were tearing one house down to the foundation and starting over. Several more houses had been lifted, some crudely, atop cinderblocks—an attempt to stay above water when the next storm comes. But cinderblocks will be defenseless against a flood like last year’s.
Meanwhile, Molly and Dulce keep chopping, grilling, slicing, labeling, storing, transporting and distributing food, working with volunteers in their kitchen at Trinity Episcopal Church in the Woodlands.
Two women and a truck: part of a community fighting its way back from a year of difficulties that most of us will never know.
Mike Smith is a Major Gift Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development.
Images: Top-Juan and Veronica’s family in their rented trailer house on River Oaks Drive. Juan is rebuilding their flood-damaged home down the road; Middle 1-Maria, her daughter Fatima and Dulce Salas, walk across 2×10 board in the family’s front yard; Middle 2-Molly Carr leads the prayer before dinner on River Oaks Drive; Middle 3-Dulce Salas translates into Spanish what her colleague Molly Carr is saying to the assembled group of neighbors and volunteers just before dinner began; Last- Molly with volunteers.