For those in small Texan coastal communities who were barely getting by before Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, life has become a daily struggle for basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and transportation.
The wide swath of the hurricane’s destruction has left many in Aransas Pass both jobless and homeless. Port Aransas businesses and the tourism industry typically employ workers who live in nearby Aransas Pass. Amid the devastation, Portland, Texas, resident and Geekdom co-founder Nick Longo has been providing hands-on relief this week, visiting the hardest-hit areas and handing out debit gift cards to those in need.
“The people who worked in businesses in Port Aransas [that were destroyed] – cleaning ladies, restaurant workers – those jobs are gone,” Longo said. “With almost half of Aransas Pass leveled, these people have lost their employment, their homes, and their belongings.”
A friend of Longo’s who wished to remain anonymous donated $100,000 for distribution directly to impacted residents in Aransas Pass, located about 10 miles from where Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm. Longo approached Aransas Pass Chamber of Commerce Director Rosemary Vega to arrange for the donation to be deposited into the account for the chamber’s nonprofit organization, Aransas Pass for Youth. The money then was loaded onto 1,000 debit cards each worth $100.
“We are able to be the boots on the ground and see how people are living,” Vega said. “There’s a tremendous amount of displacement in our community.”
Longo is working with Vicki Torres and Courtney Figueroa from Aransas Pass for Youth to distribute the gift cards to those most in need, he said. After speaking to families impacted by the hurricane, Longo and members of the nonprofit determine how many gift cards to give the families, many receiving anywhere from $300 to $500.
For those with little or no emergency resources, what money there is goes to food and fuel, not the costs of repairing or rebuilding a home. Longo, a 49-year old graduate of Aransas Pass High School, has seen firsthand the harrowing living conditions of struggling residents.
Longo spoke to an older couple living in half a trailer with the destroyed half covered in plastic sheeting. Asked what they needed most, the woman only wanted money to buy her adopted 8-year old daughter a school uniform and a bicycle to replace one lost in the storm. Longo convinced them to accept $500 in debit cards.
Another couple, Longo said, “could be the case study of the typical people we are trying to help.”
The wife was a waitress in a Port Aransas restaurant that was destroyed after the storm, and her husband was a construction worker. They lost their small house in Aransas Pass along with all their belongings. Since the hurricane in late August, the young family has been living in their truck with their 2-year old daughter. The husband sold his welding machine, work tools, and generator he used for his job to buy food for his family and gas for the truck.
“Giving money is one part of relief,” Longo said. “The other one is listening to people’s stories. These stories of loss and struggle are so heartbreaking.”
After Corpus Christi television station KIII broadcast a story on Longo’s relief efforts Wednesday, the phones at both the chamber and Aransas Pass for Youth have been ringing nonstop, Vega said.
The Aransas Pass Chamber of Commerce is asking local residents to call 361-758-2750 daily between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to make an appointment at the chamber. Vega has added more staff members to take calls and help process requests for funds.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Vega said. “We have five apartment complexes condemned because of mold, and so many people are homeless. Many are living in tents or in their vehicles.”
Longo said he plans to hand out the debit cards until the money runs out. About $10,000 of the donation has been distributed thus far.
“It’s hard because you want to give each person a lot, but we want the donation to stretch and help as many local residents as possible,” Longo said. “We will also continue to go door to door, town to town to talk to people and help them on the spot.
“Mailing gas cards or gift cards from places like H-E-B, Lowe’s, Home Depot, to the Aransas Pass Chamber of Commerce is the best way to help someone here who really needs it. It’s direct relief.”