Local business helps community weather storm after storm

Tom Jenkins

When Harvey rained 28 inches on Jefferson County in one day, the staff at Green Acres Grocery near Fannett was pushing water away from the store’s doors with brooms and squeegees, store owner Tom Jenkins remembers.

“We were open every day, and we ended up selling everything on the shelves,” Jenkins said, explaining that his store was almost an island during Harvey’s floods — people couldn’t get to Hamshire or Beaumont after I-10 and Highway 124 closed, and the channel locks on Highway 365 going into Port Arthur were shut.

“The things that we didn’t sell … we never ordered them again,” he added. “We figured if they didn’t need it during the storm, then they don’t need it.”

Green Acres Grocery wasn’t open its normal hours — 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. — but they stayed open six or seven hours a day to allow the neighborhood to get necessities.

After the store’s supply ran out, Jenkins said he went and got pallets of soda from the 7-Up plant near Highway 124 and Major Drive after the Coca-Cola plant flooded. They also procured sausage from Zummo’s and rice from Doguet’s, he added.

“We were just trying to get anything,” he said. “We couldn’t get deliveries. Our deliveries come from Houston — they were in trouble and they couldn’t get here either. That’s where milk comes from.”

“We were buying 500 pounds of rice at a time, just to put something on the shelves so if people came in, there was something to eat.”

When the bread delivery truck came, Jenkins said he promised to buy everything they had, which was 800 loaves.

“I’ve never bought $2,000 worth of bread in my life,” he said.

Air boats and cars littered Highway 124 just outside the store while rescue operations were underway, according to Jenkins.

“It was crazy … people were parking all out in the road … launching boats,” he said, adding that nine boats launched along the highway to get to elderly residents in the surrounding neighborhood.

“They were staging all the rescues down here.”

But the air boats pushed waves of water toward the grocery store. Jenkins said he remembers spending three-and-a-half hours pushing back the water with a stranded night guard from Winnie and whatever staff was able to come to work.

Jenkins is a veteran of several hurricanes now. Green Acres Grocery stayed open all during Rita and Ike as well, using generators. 

“And we didn’t lose water here like they lost water in Beaumont,” he said. “So that made us able to operate and still do everything.”

But this time, water flooded their two gas pumps and fried the circuitboard, Jenkins added, making them unable to pump gas.

“It was weird. Each one of these storms that we’ve been through, totally 100 percent different.”

The store’s flood insurance told him they only cover the building itself and contents, not the gas pumps, he said, and he didn’t receive any FEMA funds, but the additional sales helped cover the replacement costs.

“People still come in and say that they appreciated us being open and for being there because even though we were running out of stuff, when it got down to it, we at least had something for people to eat,” he said.

Hurricanes remind him of growing up in Indiana, he said, where his mom always sent his dad to the grocery store for bread before a blizzard.

“I still don’t understand the bread thing, but I grew up with it and the same thing was here during this. As long as people had bread, they felt [OK].”

Jenkins moved to Southeast Texas in 1981 and bought Green Acres Grocery store with a partner in 1993, he said. The partner has since moved on, and Jenkins has been sole owner of the store for the last 11 years.

“We were both accountants at Gulf States, and then we were offered severance packages,” he said. They bought the store instead of moving to New Orleans. “Then we would have moved into Katrina, but we didn’t ,and we stayed here.”

Jenkins recalls Katrina evacuees living at Ford Park, not far from his store, who later went through Rita.

“We had a lady from Mississippi during that one come through and all she had was her kids and all her belongings,” he said. “And she comes up to my wife and she goes, ‘We don’t have anything to feed the kids and I need gas to get to Houston. Can I write an $80 check?’ And Kristi was like, ‘It’s either good or it isn’t but we’ll take it.’ It was good, everything was fine, but Kristi was like, ‘That’s my donation if it isn’t.’”

It wouldn’t have been the last. After Harvey, Green Acres Grocery donated two pallets of Gatorade to the Cajun Navy and Army staying at a Baptist church in Hamshire, Jenkins added.

Jenkins believes that Southeast Texans remember good deeds during difficult times, adding that Thanksgiving sales were good.

“What we’ve noticed about out in the country is that people really are thankful when you go through these things, and it pays dividends later on,” he said. “We’re blessed, we’re very lucky.”

“It’s a good community. This is my job and this is how I make my living, but when there’s a tragedy in the community or something like this happens, we feel like we’re self sufficient and we can handle it. Over the years, we’ve been tried and tested.”

“I’m more than happy with what this community has given back and they tell me all the time they’re happy with what I’ve done for them,” he said, pointing to the morning regulars gathered around the coffeepot. “It’s more than just a business, it’s kind of like an extended family.”

“It’s that kind of place.”

Green Acres Grocery is at 16091 TX-124 in Beaumont. Call (409) 794-1589.

Eleanor Skelton can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 222, or by e-mail at eleanor [at] theexaminer [dot] com.