As Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston, The Leader did a search for the earliest responders in our community. We limited our hunt to Monday, Aug. 27, and Tuesday, Aug. 28, those 48 dark hours before the first slivers of sunlight appeared, a light that provoked tears of relief in thousands.
There were so many acts of courage and generosity observed in the community, it is impossible to identify them all. However, a few local businesses stepped up – fast.
“We opened as usual on Monday and stated collecting supplies for the evacuees in the George R. Brown Convention Center,” stated Vanessa Wodehouse, owner of the Big Blue Whale on W. 19th Street in the Heights. “We put it out on social media, but the rain was pouring down. We weren’t sure what would happen. Locals dropped off supplies non-stop. My husband Jim filled his truck many times and took the donations to the shelter.”
The Big Blue Whale specializes in the most imaginative toys and curiosities available. Wodehouse knows that there will be kids stuck at home during the recovery. To help, she is holding a story hour at 10:30 am and craft hour at 2:30 pm each day. “It is something we can do for parents with children suffering from cabin fever,” she concluded.
On Monday morning, Naro Mak, manager of Hartz Krispy Chicken on Pinemont, left his family and went to work making free food for Houston’s first responders. The public noticed the restaurant was operating, and soon, it was packed with regular locals too.
When area residents heard about Hartz’s commitment to our first responders, many decided to sponsor portions of the effort to help defray costs. By Wednesday, the restaurateur was serving 100 police officers, fire fighters, EMTs and constables a day across the city.
Mak shuns any credit. “What we are doing is feeding the men and women who are actually saving lives. And if there is any credit to be had, our staff should get it. They all came to work to help when they didn’t have to. We couldn’t do it without them,” Mak concluded.
Down House on Yale Street in the Heights had another idea. On the Monday following Harvey, it opened with a skeleton crew of four, all of whom volunteered, and dropped notice on social media that they were serving a limited menu – and collecting donations for the GRB evacuees. People poured in.
“We were very busy,” said manager Sara Hinkle. “So busy, we ran out of food. And the response for donations was overwhelming. Several locals were helping deliver them with their big ol’ trucks. We sent 13 truckloads on Monday alone,” Hinkle stated.
The managers of Govinda’s restaurant in the Hare Krishna temple on 34th Street were concerned about local families running out of food. On Monday, the announcement came that they would serve their fine Indian fare – for free – to anyone affected by Harvey. Starting Tuesday, the first 200 people at lunch each day dined pro bono, and every day after, until Houston’s roads cleared.
It is the quiet efforts that move us most. On Monday night, a Timbergrove resident noticed the lights on at Hughies Tavern & Grille on 18th Street as darkness fell and rain pounded the city. She thought it was odd because the popular Vietnamese eatery was closed for the storm.
It turned out that brother/owners Phillip and Paul Pham were in the kitchen cooking for evacuees at the George R. Brown. Phillip Pham delivered their divine fare to the GRB in the stinging rain Monday night. The following day, the Phams did it again. This time, Paul Pham delivered food to medical professionals working long hours, sometimes days, at several local hospitals. There were no announcements or posts; they simply did it.
“Our family was so fortunate; we suffered no loss,” Paul Pham explained. “We felt the best thing we could do in those frightening days was to feed people who were not as lucky, or feed the people helping them through it.”
The Pham brother’s effort would have remained unknown had the kitchen lights not shone through the rain and darkness. It’s a good metaphor for our city. Houston’s response to the disaster is shining light on the stunning diversity, strong sense of community, and tremendous heart of the city. The area in which we live serves as great example.