A few days after Hurricane Harvey dropped 40-60 inches of rain in southeast Texas, 13 Southwire employees and a caravan of 17 tractor trailers were on the way to a town sadly accustomed to repeat flooding in the past few years.
“I learned that the area has sustained three floods in three years, and the church has fallen into a rhythm of how to help members of the local community,” said Corporate Communication Specialist Jordan Weathers during the distribution efforts in Bellaire, Texas.
Bellaire, a smaller town that didn’t receive as much attention as larger cities after the hurricane, sustained extensive damage, and the volunteers were impressed by both the evidence of flooding at every corner and the evidence of a town beginning to rebuild.
“As we drove through these neighborhoods, one crowded street after the other, we saw the all-too-familiar piles of drywall, lumber, furniture, insulation and personal possessions on the curb, sitting alongside trash cans and black plastic bags intended for regular garbage pick-up,” said Weathers in his blog entry on their second day.
The 13 Southwire employees who participated in the volunteer drive and distribution in Bellaire are part of an elite group at Southwire because of their community involvement efforts known as Project GIFT Blackshirts. Project GIFT is a nonprofit that was born out of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. It’s through their organized response the call went out to Southwire communities to donate aid – anything from bottled water to hygiene products and baby items.
With more than a decade of experience organizing aid after natural disasters, the volunteers quickly rallied Southwire communities* across North America and within days had fully loaded 17 tractor trailers.
On Sept. 7, 2017, the tractor trailers and 13 employees headed down to Bellaire, Texas, not sure what they’d find or who they’d be able to help. But by noon that day, approximately 100 cars had gone through the line to receive aid and several tractor trailers were already empty.
“By the time each vehicle left the distribution site, the residents had bottled water, food, a blanket and pillow, paper products, pet food and baby items (if needed), personal hygiene products and assorted cleaning supplies,” said Weathers. “These items didn’t seem like much to me, but as I would soon learn, even the smallest and seemingly insignificant items can mean the world to someone enduring unimaginable loss.”
Within three days, 16 tractor trailers were empty – with another on its way to Kountze, Texas – and the long line of cars waiting to receive aid had dwindled. It was an impactful few days for the volunteers, but it was just the start of a long rebuilding process for Bellaire, Texas. A few weeks later, Hurricane Irma followed Harvey and devastated parts of Florida and Georgia.
“We just saw an amazing response from this community for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and we know that many of our friends and neighbors gave more than they ever have. For these efforts, we are truly thankful,” said Kristian C. Whittington, Southwire’s manager of employee engagement and communications and Project GIFT coordinator. “We can’t predict when disasters will occur, but we want to make sure we stand ready to help in the wake of Hurricane Irma as we always have.”
Today, more than 900 employees at Southwire plants and customer service centers throughout North America volunteer regularly through Project GIFT. And whether it’s in the local community or across the country, Project GIFT volunteers jump in to help without a second thought. It’s what they do.
*Special thanks to these Southwire communities who went above and beyond in sending aid: Carrollton, Georgia; Florence, Alabama; Starkville, Mississippi; Bremen, Indiana; Mineral Wells, Texas; Heflin, Alabama; Denton, Texas; Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin; Avon Lake, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; Rancho Cucamonga, California; Fontana, California; Southwire Canada