By Jen Edwards and Roberto Baltodano, American Red Cross.
Wonderful things are happening in Bon Wier, an area in Southeast Texas recently impacted by devastating floods. With support from the Red Cross and partner agencies, neighbors are helping neighbors get back on their feet again.
Bon Wier Baptist Church is the site of a Red Cross-supported community shelter. Displaced families have a safe place to stay, warm meals, and the support of caring friends and tireless volunteers from all over the state and across the country.
Members of the Texas Baptist Men and the Texas Conservation Corps (a branch of Americorps) are staying at and helping from the church too. These volunteers are assisting families with their laundry, clean up, and necessary repairs.
Despite what happened in recent days, the mood at Bon Wier Baptist church is one of strength and hope. Smiling children are running around playing, while resilient neighbors talk to one another, sharing stories and resource information. Lunch is brought in daily by a Red Cross emergency response vehicle that came all the way from Arkansas. Today the menu includes fried chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, and cornbread, all Southern specialties.
Through the back door of the church, another Red Crosser is seen outside late into the evening, talking to the families that come here to get help. Laurie Jaggers, a disaster program specialist from White Mills, Kentucky, is connecting families to resources, offering support and strength, and empowering them to step forward into long term recovery.
It’s an incredible story, considering that many of the community members helping out at the church were also impacted by the floods.
Thelma Nova lost her home and her possessions. She’s currently staying with her mother Annie, who was also impacted when her home suffered flood damage. Even so, Thelma says “we’re blessed” and that “you gotta give back” to the community.
She’s coping with the recent disaster by staying busy and helping to cook breakfast each day at the church, where friends and neighbors come together to help one another. Thelma said that “if we didn’t know our neighbors, we do now.”
The unsung hero of this group of ordinary people doing extraordinary things is Mildred Mason. A lifetime resident of Bon Wier, this isn’t the first time she has seen flooding in the area. “The community came together for Rita too,” she said. But this is the worst flooding she has seen. While her home wasn’t directly affected by the recent flooding, water did rise up into her yard.
Mildred knows she can’t do this on her own, and her humanitarian spirit has energized the entire community. “When there’s a need, we just jump in. Somebody has to take charge.” She enlisted the Pentecostal church down the road for extra help with supplemental food storage. That church is also storing clothes and other items donated to the community.
Diane Hall is one of many other neighbors helping Mildred. Originally from Maryland, Diane has been in Bon Wier for 22 years, and is now helping to keep everything organized at the church. In her words, “I do what I can” and for right now that means she is helping to direct all of the partner agencies working out of the church and making sure everyone who comes into the church gets the help they need.
Linda Stewart from Austin, Texas, has been with the organization for two years. She volunteered because “anytime you’re helping others you feel blessed. Next time I may be the one who needs help.” In addition, Texas Baptist Men is providing a mobile charging station so everyone can stay connected.
Like Linda, Shaina DeNasha is also from Austin. As part of the Texas Conservation Corps she is “mucking and gutting” houses, helping residents clean out debris and other heavy items they can’t handle on their own.
Mildred also welcomed FEMA to the church, where teams are meeting with members of the community to assist them in applying for federal aid. Whatever happens next, Mildred and the community at Bon Wier Baptist Church will be ready to help their friends and neighbors.
A couple of things you can do to prepare your family for disasters like floods is to train as a Red Cross volunteer by visiting RedCross.org/Volunteer and install the free Red Cross Emergency App on your mobile phone, which puts vital information in the palm of your hand. You can download our apps for free at RedCross org/Apps, the Apple App Store or Google Play.