Kilgore contingent joins united front in helping with hurricane recovery


When people in Kilgore were asked if they could help the people of Houston and the Gulf Coast, the community responded with money and trailers full of supplies and donations.

The help was varied with some donating money to a PayPal account, ultimately amassing $2,000 in a day. People purchased supplies to send with crews. Others cooked meat to feed people a hot meal as they searched for anything salvageable at their home or tried to figure out what happens next.

“Just to see the amount of support that that area got in such a short time is amazing,” Kilgore College student Nick Gaviria said. “It’s a big heartache when you just see everything they work for just destroyed. Lots of people lost their houses.”

For Gaviria, Harvey was not just a disaster he saw on TV and on social media. It was his family, his friends and his neighbors. It was national news shows broadcasting from his school’s football stadium in Sheldon ISD.

Gaviria sat 200 miles away as he watched Hurricane Harvey slam into the Texas coast as a Category 4 storm and then turn into Tropical Storm Harvey while stalling and crawling over the Houston area to dump trillions of gallons of water.

“Last week I was a nervous wreck. I couldn’t sleep, and I was stressed,” he said. The entire time he was looking for a way to get down to his family and help if he needed to rescue anyone. “As the week progressed, and I realized everyone was good I started to calm down.”

When he was finally able to go to Houston Saturday, he said, everything seemed pretty much normal on the Houston freeways, but then as he and Brandon Williams got into northeastern Houston they started to see the devastation. At one point, the road had washed out and then they saw the piles of debris lining the neighborhood roads.

“Both sides of the road, just trash and furniture and all kind of things,” Gaviria said. “The destruction itself was horrible… You just see the destruction. You just see people spray painted on their house, ‘Stay out,’ ‘Do not come in here’ because people were looting. You just see the destruction for roads on end.”

Once Gaviria developed his plan to do something, he turned to his Kilgore College community to help collect donations.

Gaviria did not expect to collect a truck bed and trailer full of supplies to take with him Saturday, he said. Some even gave the pair money for gas and food on the trip.

“All I did was ask a simple question: ‘Can you guys help me?’” Gaviria said.

When the two arrived in Gaviria’s Houston neighborhood Saturday, he and Williams drove through the neighborhood, handing out donated items as they were needed, from water and cleaning supplies to dog collars and leashes.

They then turned their attention to the Gaviria family home, helping tear out flooring, walls and cabinets damaged by the floodwaters.

“They got about 28 inches, so we had to literally go three and a half feet up,” he said.

Trying to cheer up his mom, Gaviria said, he told her they could sell the house at half price because of how much wall, sheetrock and insulation had to be removed, along with the floor and furniture.

The hardest part is the clean up, Gaviria said.

The people of Vidor are still in that cleanup process, Reece Nichols said.

Nichols went with his family to Turning Point Church in Vidor, which was set up as a drop off point and supply center instead of as a shelter for evacuees.

The whole town was flooded, though, with electricity not expected to come back on until Sept. 13, he said.

With a contact at the church, Nichols joined his brother’s mission to make the drive to Vidor to help feed hot meals to the community.

Although he is not sure how many people helped, Nichols said, Will Hale and Bryan George were able to get enough people to cook 50 pork butts and 30 briskets in about eight hours. Once it was cooked, Nichols and his daughters left Kilgore Friday to join his brother and his family to prepare everything before a 5 a.m. departure for Vidor.

Feeding people Sunday lunch, Nichols said, he lost count of how many meals were handed out, but guessed it might be around the 5,000 mark. Some people, though, were more excited about having a cold drink to go with the meal.

Some of the people they served were back in Vidor for the first time after evacuating to shelters. Although they knew they could not stay, they wanted to see what they could salvage from their homes and flooded neighborhoods.

“That’s where you’re just trying to put a smile on somebody’s face and say, ‘We got you today,’” Nichols said.

Without the people who donated meat, money and their time, Nichols said, they would have had water and hot dogs.

The work came together as people had a calling and a burden to help however they could.

“It’s certainly nothing heroic,” he said.

While they were at the church, a truck from Tennessee pulled in with supplies after driving through the night.

“You’re one of many and it’s almost like you just feel like you’re on a unified front of ‘we’re all working together to bring order and comfort to another human’,” Nichols said.

Nichols suggested people who want to help look and see what they can provide, whether it is money, supplies, time or work. There must be a plan, though, he stressed.

Without a plan and someone they knew at the church before they arrived, Nichols said, they would have simply set up on a street corner trying to feed people instead of being part of a system that was organized to help a large amount of people.

“You have to know what you’re doing,” Gaviria echoed.