Public, party leaders put in work to help Harvey’s victims

Judge Terrence Holmes

Although most businesses in Southeast Texas were still shuttered Monday, Sept. 4, in the wake of Tropical Storm/Hurricane Harvey, many still found useful outlets for their idle hands, putting them to work at volunteer sites scattered throughout the region. Serving their fellow Southeast Texans hit hard by Harvey’s floodwaters, men, women, and children answered the call to aid their neighbors in rescue and recovery, spending the Labor Day holiday on the job.

Beaumont, Orange and Hardin counties were all devastated by the storm, and as help came from outside our Golden Triangle, just as many hometown heroes rose from the rubble. At the Jefferson County Democratic Party Headquarters in Beaumont, elected officials, storm victims, families and neighbors turned up to volunteer en masse. Judge Baylor Wortham, District Attorney Bob Wortham, Judge Terrence Holmes, District Clerk Jamie Smith, former state Senator David Bernsen, Sheriff Zena Stephens, City Councilmember Get Wright … the list goes on and on, with elected officials rolling up their sleeves alongside dozens of their fellow citizens on Labor Day 2017 – just as they had since Harvey’s initial onslaught – to put in work that, although it didn’t bring income, added much-needed support to the community.

“The response was overwhelming,” Jefferson County Democratic Party Chair Cade Bernsen said of those who have assisted in the group’s mission of meeting the needs of Southeast Texans impacted by Harvey. While giving an update to the ongoing efforts at the party headquarters, Bernsen said that, in about a week’s time, more than 10,000 individuals were assisted with food, water, shelter, Internet access, assistance with applying for FEMA aid, and good company.

Alice Johnwell McNair, also spending Labor Day working as a volunteer at the Democratic headquarters, had been at the distribution site since it first opened, brought there as a evacuee from Port Arthur after rescue via boat from the floodwaters rising in her home the night of Harvey’s impact in Southeast Texas.

“A lot of these people are in the same boat I’m still in,” McNair said of those she was there to help. Now staying at the home of family in Port Arthur, McNair said she had stayed at many places in the hours and days immediately after the storm. Woke from her sleep by a phone call alerting her to rising water in her home, McNair said she stumbled from her bed to water already well past her knees.

“I can’t swim,” she said. She was scared. “I called my sister. She said, ‘What about your car?’ I said, ‘What about my life?!’”

McNair flagged down a police officer in a boat and made her escape with nothing but her nightclothes on. From there, she was shuttled to MaxBowl, one of the few places in town not then underwater. When it was no longer safe there, McNair was moved to a church, a school, the airport, and then, finally, to the Democratic Party headquarters in Beaumont where volunteers set up cots to take in McNair and a few other evacuees who didn’t want to catch a plane out of town but had nowhere else to go.

“I remember this address because they took care of me here,” McNair said of the 2211 Calder Ave. headquarters that became her shelter and solace. “I feel safe here.

“This place has been a blessing to me. They helped me, and I want to help them.”