Storyteller: Clayton Heilman
Outside the rubble of destroyed homes and a wrecked church building, tents sat ready to serve local residents. Volunteers busily shuffled about handing out supplies, helping residents get signed up for aid, and staging distribution areas. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, there was a lot of work to be done. Michele, focused on the job before her, noticed an elderly woman slowly shuffle past. The woman’s sweat-soaked and soiled clothes revealed that she was a local resident, not a volunteer.
“Can I help you with something?” Michele asked.
“I’m looking for someplace I can go for help,” Betty responded. “My home was destroyed; we have one room left standing we’ve been living in, but I need help.”
Michele directed her to the receiving area and handed her the paperwork she would need to begin receiving aid. As Betty filled in her paperwork, Michele moved over to one of the tents to take a break from the summer heat. Moments later she saw Betty slowly walking by again, disoriented and visibly upset.
“Betty, what’s wrong? Did they take care of you?” Michele pressed.
“For a brief moment, I was the one person who Betty needed”
Betty didn’t know how to say it, but she had just realized that her keys were locked inside of her car, along with her handicapped husband and two little dogs. Her husband was unable to move to reach the keys or open the door. The police came over right away to help but nobody had the right tools to get into the car. Fortunately, she had left the car running so her husband had air conditioning. Michele took Betty over to the shade and sat her down while the police officers worked. Betty clung to Michele for the next hour, sobbing, talking, and decompressing, the disaster she had just lived through.
“For a brief moment, I was the one person who Betty needed,” Michele said. “I couldn’t solve any of her problems, but I could sit there and be the shoulder to cry on. That moment — knowing I could give her a chance to grieve and process, even if only for an hour — made my entire trip worth it. If I make a difference for one person, it’s always worth the trip.”
The PEACE Relief team Michele was part of had headed to Corpus Christi as soon as the rain stopped. Michele wasn’t there to make a name for herself; she wasn’t there to show off the efforts of Saddleback Church — she was there to serve the local community. Partnering with local churches, when PEACE Relief teams respond to a disaster, they serve the church as they serve local residents.
“We don’t tell them what they need, we ask them how we can serve them, then we act,” Michele said.
Now, we have a chance to serve others who are trying to clean up the damage in their own communities.
Lives uprooted, families disconnected, dreams destroyed, years of cleanup and rebuilding will be required to put Texas back in order. The quick, selfless actions of the volunteers serving offer a small glimpse of hope to individuals still disoriented by the storm and destruction. Through the heartache of a natural disaster, Michele sees an opportunity to work alongside people to clean up, rebuild, and process.
“People find their memories in the rubble of destroyed homes. Listening to them share their stories is a unique experience to help someone process emotionally while working alongside them to physically clean up the damage.”
“At some point, we’re going to need help in Southern California after a natural disaster. Now, we have a chance to serve others who are trying to clean up the damage in their own communities. There are so many ways to serve people that have been affected, teams will be going down to Texas for as long as it takes to help local churches and communities piece their lives back together. We remain flexible, listen to the needs, then take action.”
Click HERE to learn more about PEACE Relief.