In two short hours and for four days, Lone Star College-CyFair became a fully-operational shelter and a distribution site of basic necessities in the wake of Hurricane Harvey for 97 guests and 600 visitors thanks to the overwhelming support of more than 1,000 volunteers.
Harris County Emergency Operations Center asked the college at 9191 Barker Cypress to set up shelter at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29. Within the hour, employees and community members who lived nearby were at the campus ready to serve in whatever capacity necessary.
The outpouring of donations and people wanting to help was so overwhelming, that by 4:30 p.m. donations filled every classroom of the entire ground floor in the Health Science Center building, said LSC-CyFair Police Captain Mike Tymniak. By the next morning when members of the Texas State Guard arrived, a medical team was already on site, volunteers were organized, hot food donations from area businesses had been secured and 70 guests had settled in for the duration.
“What we had established here in essence was a restaurant, hotel, medical center, animal shelter, and retail store for food, clothing and bedding,” said Hilary Harris, an LSC-CyFair faculty and area resident. “This was simply a college campus that became a shelter by sheer force of will by faculty, staff and community members who saw a need and fulfilled it.”
Residents affected by Harvey were from all walks of life as were the families and neighbors, high school and college students, doctors and nurses, out-of-state residents and organizations who came to volunteer.
“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people want to contribute and all egos are set aside. No one was too proud or too good to do the most mundane or menial tasks,” said Kyle Goldstein, an LSC-CyFair student and part-time employee at the college, who helped secure hot food and other resources. “Every single establishment I stopped at was waiting for a call to action.”
Twenty community businesses were ready to provide any resources needed, and they did. Even two local families provided hot meals. At the college, community volunteers pitched in to answer phones; receive, sort and label donations; give medical aid; take care of children and pets; and just to be a sympathetic ear to listen to guests’ stories.
“What we (college employees) did is minor compared to what the community did,” said Jillian Moller, LSC-CyFair faculty. “You just had human beings working together. It was very beautiful.”
Some community volunteers, like Nelly Urquizo, who led the teen volunteers and is now dealing with her own flooded townhome, said Harvey brought blessings in disguise – new friendships, new opportunities and for one of LSC-CyFair’s guests, a new baby boy born to the Torres family.
In preparation for the return of more than 22,000 college students to start the fall semester at the campus, volunteers helped transport the majority of guests Thursday, Aug. 31, to the nearby Copperfield Church’s shelter. Volunteers also stayed to load and move more than 60 pallets of donations to another distribution site as well as clean up the campus.
While social media and tv news showed images of the overwhelming devastation causing fear and sadness in many, college employees and community members alike said that wasn’t the case at LSC-CyFair. There was comfort, laughter and lots of hope.