SBTC DR provides meals for people affected by Hurricane Hanna in the Rio Grande Valley

McALLENHurricane Hanna made landfall as a category 1 storm along the Texas Gulf Coast the evening of Saturday, July 25, adding another level of trauma to an area already suffering from a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. 

Before weakening and moving into Mexico, Hanna knocked out electricity in the Rio Grande Valley and spawned widespread flooding in Hidalgo County, necessitating at least 200 water rescues by mid-day Sunday, the Valley Monitor reported.

As rain continued Sunday, Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief volunteers Doug and Delpha Cates and Ronnie and Connie Roark brought two quick response feeding units to the Rio Grande Valley, one from the Top O’ Texas Baptist Association in Pampa and the other from Salem-Sayers Baptist in Adkins, near San Antonio.

As the crews traveled south in tandem down Highway 281, passing motorists spying the SBTC DR logos on the mobile kitchens signaled “thumbs up” and showed praying hands, Connie Roark told the TEXAN.

The Pampa unit set up operations Monday at Sendero Community Church in south McAllen. The church also provided volunteers and pastor David Ortega and his wife, Mari, hosted the Roarks and Cateses in their home.

From 1 to 6 p.m. Monday, storm victims, most still lacking electricity, drove through the church’s parking lot, receiving a total of 261 hot meals. Many came from nearby Pharr and learned of the meal outreach from flyers hastily typed and printed by the Ortegas and distributed by church members. 

“Our members went to Walmart in south McAllen and combed the areas where there was flooding,” Ortega said. 

At the church, Sendero members, SBTC DR volunteers, Ortega and a neighborhood family greeted people in their vehicles and talked with them as they waited in line to receive hot food. Survivors and volunteers alike were masked.

Volunteers not only asked drivers how many meals were needed, but also inquired about hurricane damages and offered to pray.

Connections despite barriers

Ronnie Roark noted that masks forced him to pay closer attention to each meal recipient.

“We all have to wear masks now. We look at people’s eyes much more. Their eyes will tell you. When they drive through you can tell,” Roark mused, describing one lady who “seemed about to tear up.”

When asked if she had a prayer request, the woman replied, “Yes,” her voice trembling. “I need a job,” she said before Connie Roark prayed with her.

“That’s the beauty of how we serve today, to actually visit with the folks,” Connie said. Despite barriers set up for physical distancing, rigid preparation and serving protocols and even temperature checks for volunteers, human and divine connections occur.

A single father named Rick phoned Ortega’s church cell number. Rick had just received a flyer, noted the church name, and wanted to verify that the meal offer was legitimate.

“Are you really giving out food?” he asked.

“Yes, we are,” Ortega answered as the man explained he had two small children and they lived in apartments that still lacked power. 

By the time Ortega, who had been surveying Edinburg neighborhoods hit by the storm, returned to the church shortly after the phone call, Rick was already there in line. Ortega talked with him, asking him how things were going spiritually.

“I’ve kind of strayed away,” Rick replied, adding that in June he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had quarantined five weeks. “I thought I was going to die,” he said. Then came the hurricane. “This is the second time the Lord is trying to get my attention,” he said.

Ortega talked to Rick about Christ, encouraged him to go to church and gave him a Bible, offering spiritual food in addition to physical sustenance. 

By the end of Monday, volunteers had made spiritual contacts or prayed with 86 individuals, Connie Roark said.

Among Monday’s helpers were Eric, Jeanne, Donovan and Natalie Fagan, Ortega’s neighbors. Eric, a veteran involved with area Wounded Warriors, also contacted group members about the meal distribution.

The Cateses will man the Top O’ Texas QRU kitchen through Wednesday, serving breakfast till noon and dinner from 3 to 6 p.m. daily, while the Roarks will set up the second QRU in the Mission area on Tuesday and minister there.

Meanwhile, SBTC DR volunteers Kyle Sadler and Ralph and Debra Britt headed to the Rio Grande Valley to assess the area and see if recovery teams are needed.

Call 855.SBTC DRHelp for assistance

More flooding may be on the way, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice told DR task force members in a Zoom meeting on Monday, noting that although Hanna died out in Mexico, the watershed is draining toward the Rio Grande River and authorities are concerned flooding will occur downstream from Falcon Lake, possibly inundating an area from Rio Grande City to the Gulf of Mexico.

“We may still have river flooding in front of us, three to five days out. We can’t stand down yet because something may happen,” Stice said, confirming SBTC DR’s continued readiness.

As SBTC DR continues its response to Hurricane Hanna in the Rio Grande Valley, the Pampa QRU kitchen finished work at Sendero Community Church on July 19 and moved to provide feeding support to recovery operations at McAllen’s Baptist Temple. Seven SBTC DR volunteers also assisted the Salvation Army in food preparation at its central kitchen in McAllen from Thursday to Sunday before joining the support crew at Baptist Temple.

The QRU from Salem-Sayers set up at Sullivan City, where the Roarks prepared more than 500 lunches daily from Thursday to Sunday. They also served 500 dinners provided by the Salvation Army each day.

Assessments continue, joined by chaplains. A SBTC DR shower/laundry unit has been moved to the area to support volunteers. Clean up and recovery work began on Thursday, July 30, and a second recovery crew began work on Monday, August 3.

A SBTC DR phone number for Rio Grande Valley Spanish speakers needing food or assistance following Hurricane Hanna has been set up at 956.448.4712, manned by David Loyola. The other toll free number also remains active: 855.728.2374.

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