ROCKPORT, Texas – The American Red Cross is making a special effort to be sure people in hurricane-devastated parts of Texas have a chance to apply for financial help to begin to rebuild their lives.
For many, the Red Cross Immediate Assistance Program (IAP) – relaunched last week in a more robust form to meet overwhelming demand – is already beginning to ease the hardships inflicted by Hurricane Harvey.
As of Sept. 23, the Red Cross had authorized $70 million in financial assistance to 175,000 Texas households.
But in many of the hardest-hit communities, the computer-based application process for the IAP is still out of reach. Tens of thousands lost all their possessions, including computers; many areas still are without internet access.
In Rockport, some 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, Red Cross volunteers are trying to lower that hurdle by stocking the local Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) with more than food, water and cleaning supplies.
The one-stop relief center is now equipped with internet-connected laptops so storm victims can quickly file an online application for the $400 the Red Cross is providing to households that qualify.
Dana Peyronel and her 80-year-old father, B.C. Stockton, were among the first of dozens of people who successfully accessed the IAP website at the Rockport Red Cross station.
Before Harvey made landfall, Dana and her husband were living on their 28-foot-long boat in the Rockport harbor. The couple took comforted in the fact that B.C. lived in a home nearby. When the hurricane took dead aim at Rockport, the three grabbed what they could from their homes and fled.
"Our boat is at the bottom of the harbor now," Dana said. While her father's house is still standing, the roof was destroyed and a broken water line added to the flooding inside.
Still, the father-daughter duo was trying to be upbeat with Red Cross volunteers at the MARC. And they were very grateful for assistance.
"I'm on a fixed income, and I lost all of the food in my home," B.C. said, "so this $400 will help me get some food and other supplies I can really use."
Bee Derenthall was another Rockport resident taking the opportunity to use a Red Cross laptop. She, her husband, and their 3-year-old son, Dominic, tried to ride out the hurricane. They wouldn't do it again, Bee said.
They were at home when the hurricane blew off the roof and literally tore apart their patio. "We had just moved to Rockport eight months before the storm," she said. "When it hit, we were scared so bad. So much water got into our house that we're now dealing with mold."
That made their trip to the MARC site well worth the effort. Not only was Bee able to successfully file the family's online IAP application, she also picked up free cleaning supplies. And last but not least: Just as mother and son were leaving the MARC, volunteers surprised Dominic with a new Mickey Mouse toy.
While Harvey gathered strength for its epic landfall, Travis Thomas, his wife and his father evacuated some 100 miles inland. But when they returned to their home in the coastal town of Port Lavaca, 50 miles up the road from Rockport, they were horrified by what they found.
Wind had uprooted a large tree in the backyard, which crashed through the house, letting rain pour in.
"I wasn't a very rich man before this happened," Travis said. "But I lost all of my power tools and other things that I need to do construction work with."
One after another, area residents recounted their experiences and the hardships they are facing, testifying to the value of the financial aid. After working with a Red Cross worker to file his application, Travis paused to reflect on what that help meant to him.
"I'm a very religious person," Travis said. "So just seeing people helping people reminds me that there's a purpose for everyone here."
Julie Schulte, a Red Cross volunteer from Iowa, said the relief that Travis Thomas expressed lifted the spirits of the volunteers as well.
"Work like we are doing today is also very rewarding for us," Julie said. "We get to see the faces of the people we are helping and get to hear each of their stories. One woman we helped broke down in tears because it's been so rough.
"It's not just about providing financial support; sometimes it's just letting these people know that we care."
About the author: Jim Burns, from the Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region, is helping with the organization's response in the Corpus Christi area of Texas.