Skipper and KT Wright of Liberty City woke up extra early Thursday morning, got in their Jeep with 37-inch wheels and took to East Texas roads to help nurses, doctors and hospital staff members get to work at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center so they could care for patients in the community.
“It’s been a pleasure helping. They do so much for us,” Skipper Wright said. “And this is personal to me.”
Wright has Stage 4 cancer. He’s been visiting Texas Oncology in Longview for treatment, but he said it is all medical personnel that matter to him, regardless of where they work.
“They do so much me, so if I can help them in any way, that’s what I’m here to do,” he said. “They take care of us way more than we do them. If all I’ve got to do is pick them up and take them home, that’s a small thing to do for them.”
The Wrights are two of many Kilgore-area residents who took care of their neighbors this past week when a winter storm dumped between 6 to 8 inches and then another 3-5 inches of snow, sleet and ice on the area.
The Wrights are among dozens upon dozens of Jeep owners who have participated in a large-scale effort coordinated by the nonprofit organization, E.T. Jeep Outlaws, to transport hospital staff members to and from work each day so they could continue providing medical care to the community.
“Every single one of the individuals here, I can’t put a value on what they mean to us,” said Christus Good Shepherd’s Vice President of Operations Jim Gaton as he looked out Thursday upon a sea of Jeep owners lined up at the hospital’s South Entrance. “At the end of the day, because of them, we’re able to care for our patients and the community.”
The partnership between Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center and E.T. Jeep Outlaws started about three years ago during a previous storm during which Jeep owners helped staff get to work. That storm paled in comparison to this week’s winter weather, but Justen Hollis, president and founder of E.T. Jeep Outlaws, said Jeep owners mobilized once again for the cause.
Each day last week, Christus Good Shepherd has sent Hollis a list of employees who need a ride to and from work. Hollis then coordinated those rides with Jeep owners across East Texas.
Jeep owners have come from Kilgore, Longview and the surrounding area to participate, and they’ve transported hospital staff members and even patients as far as Marshall, Tyler, Gilmer and Henderson to help them get safely to and from their homes.
“This has by far been the biggest experience of something like this that we’ve done, just because we’ve never seen this much ice and snow in East Texas,” Hollis said. “If it wasn’t for all of my Jeep members and all of these people here, we wouldn’t have been able to do this at all.”
In between taking Christus staff and patients to and from home or work, Jeep owners have driven the area’s roadways providing help to those in need.
KT Wright said on Wednesday the couple went to a store to buy batteries that they delivered to a family in Diana that was in need of batteries to keep an insulin pump running. They’ve also delivered pizzas to staff at the Truman W. Smith Children’s Care Center. Wright said the most difficult challenge late last week was availability of fuel.
While Wright and others were traversing area roads as an ad hoc taxi service, Kilgore police, the nonprofit Helping Hands of Kilgore, volunteers and others mobilized to provide free bottled water and produce to Kilgore residents on Monday.
The distributions were contact free due to COVID-19 precautions as police officers and volunteers loaded items in to vehicles.
Helping Hands Director Ursula Plaisance counted about 250 families receiving produce from 10 a.m. to noon Monday. The produce comes from the East Texas Food Bank.
“Kilgore is a very close-knit family when there’s any kind of tragedy or need,” Plaisance said. “We’re glad to still be meeting some needs here.”
Donna Young attended both distributions because she could not find what she needed at local stores. Robina Clark said she did not lose her water, but a tree fell in her yard due to the weight of the snow and ice.
Kimbley Roberts said she was used to winter storms having lived in Maine previously, moving to Kilgore about four years ago.
“I’ve been through this before,” she said. She and her family lost water to parts of their home. But their experience enabled them to help others during the week.
“My husband did a lot of driving to help out people and stuff,” Roberts said, “bringing them what water we could and taking trips to the store and stuff.”
Being able to have fresh produce is helpful to her family, she said.
Sgt. Vance Callahan worked on produce distribution along with Assistant Chief Johnathan Gage, Victim Services Coordinator Jonathan Latham and others. Callahan said he also worked Saturdays bottled water distribution though it was his day off.
“Saturday was 23 pallets, totaled over 46,000 bottles,” Callahan said.
Latham said his job last week was mostly organizing volunteers and helpers.
“Mainly contacting people trying to get folks to help people that were in need,” he said. “And they stepped up. We did wonderful. Kilgore people are good folks.”
Christina Cavazos and Courtney Stern reported this story.