Polk County Enterprise newspaper | May 1st, 2016
When retired teacher and Livingston resident Sylvia Ortiz says she believes in going the extra mile to help others, she means it. And this past week, she proved that mileage marker doesn't stop at one.
Ortiz is standing in the middle of a large room at the Community of Faith Church youth center, 75 miles from home - in Houston - surrounded by a sea of clothes. She has been sorting them into piles, based on size, for five days. When she arrived last Friday, Ortiz had planned on staying in Houston just overnight, but now isn't sure exactly when she will return.
"I came here just to drop off a donation, but when I brought my bags in and saw all of this, I just couldn't leave. I wanted to help," she said, pointing to where she had signed in as a volunteer.
The Community of Faith Church, located in the hard-hit community of Acres Homes, is one of the donation drop-off and distribution sites being utilized by the Red Cross to provide relief to area residents affected by recent flooding in the Houston area. It is also a central point of coordination for a city-wide, faith-based initiative called H-Town Cares.
Bishop James Dixon II, Senior Pastor at the Community of Faith and co-founder of H-Town Cares, said this is the first city-wide disaster recovery effort he has seen in the Houston faith community, one that crosses both racial and religious lines. And unlike some other efforts, he said, they are in it for the long haul.
"Long after the weather forecast changes, when there is no storm in sight, the storm is still raging for victims," Dixon said. "That's what makes a site like this of grave importance."
According to Bishop Shelton Bady of Harvest Time Church, the coordinated efforts of H-Town Cares helped them feed 10,000 people last week, and yet there is still more need in the community than they can fill on a daily basis.
"We have had truckloads of supplies brought in every day, and every day we have run out," Bady said at a meeting with Houston area pastors and Mayor Sylvester Turner. "You could bring 10 trucks in today, and tomorrow it would all be gone."
Ortiz said it is easy to feel overwhelmed when looking at options of where to help, in a disaster as widespread as this. In her case, a Google search took her to where she ultimately felt God wanted her to be.
"I kept thinking that I have everything I need, and here all these people just need help," she said. "It doesn't matter who you are or where you are. Just jump in."