Jay Copp 2017-10-16 14:13:00
Photos by Micahl Wyckoff LIONS GET TO WORK Northeast of Houston, Liberty County is divided in half by the Trinity River, which after Tropical Storm Harvey petulantly rushed over its banks and mercilessly flooded homes and businesses. That’s why three Lions maneuvered a small motorboat to tiny, isolated Moss Hill, no more than a couple of restaurants and a handful of churches amid scattered homes. Hardin Lions Bonita Davis; her daughter, Savannah Ardoin; and Travis Reed motored toward a solitary trailer home, near the river and in danger of being washed away, and rescued a grateful man. Other Lions also took boats to rescue those in harm’s way. John Joslin, a constable and a Lion in Cleveland, also plucked people from their homes. Another officer on his detail was seriously injured when his airboat was pulled under the current of the San Jacinto River. He and another responder “ended up hanging onto a tree right around the Burger King. That’s how they were rescued,” Joslin told a newspaper. “The first responders in Liberty County were Lions,” says Davis, a zone chairperson and a Hardin Lion since 2000. Thanks in large part to a $100,000 emergency catastrophe grant from Lions Clubs International Foundation, Lions in Texas also stocked shelters with food and water. The isolation of Liberty County, in particular, where roads were impassable, made the efforts of Lions and other community members vital. “The Red Cross was not able to get there. They [residents] would have been without food or water for days,” says Past District Governor Mark Roth. In devastated Liberty County, only 1 shelter of the 17 set up after Harvey was operated by the Red Cross, says Davis. Aided by Lions and others, churches stepped up. “The Lighthouse [Church] knew if they asked and whatever they needed, Lions would get it,” says Davis. Harvey is predicted to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Its potential price tag is $190 billion. The hurricane transformed Lions in Texas from typical service club members to vital cogs in rescue and recovery initiatives. For small clubs in small towns, the storm was particularly groundbreaking. There are 24 Lions in Hardin, a town of only 700. Year after year, the Lions hold pancake suppers, mount American flags on holidays and auction students’ art to raise funds for scholarships. Within the space of a few days of unrelenting rain and unprecedented flooding, the Lions became instant, self-appointed deputies in ensuring people’s well-being in a region scarred by war-like damage. Trucks of goods began arriving by the dozens; many came from Lions. “They were from Rhode Island, Phoenix, New York,” says Davis. “I put out a call; come with your truck and trailer. The Lions are bringing in stuff.” Some residents did not understand who Lions are and even whether the goods were free. Davis posted a message on social media letting people know “that Lions don’t get paid.” In Cleveland, the civic-minded doggedness and courage of a Lion ensured that people would get fed. Second Vice President Thomas Higgins, a store manager at Brookshire Brothers, drove through a flooded area to open his store. “He did that at great peril to himself,” says Mike Penry, a fellow Cleveland Lion. The waters rose even higher after Higgins arrived to open the grocery store, so he had to stay overnight in his store. As Harvey approached, like other Texans, Lions closely watched the forecasts. They also prepared themselves for a disaster. District Governor Betty Ezell of Houston worked the phones. “She was a real champ,” says Roth. When the deluge hit, Lions were ready. “She [Ezell] told us to get whatever we need. LCI would be able to reimburse us,” says Penry. Lions’ readiness was steeled by prior experience−more than they’d prefer−with hurricanes. “I lived through the hurricane in 1962. I was walking my dog in the eye of the 1983 hurricane. It’s a way of life on the Gulf Coast,” says Roth. “We’re far enough away from the coast that the wind dies down. … We were anticipating we’d have 20 or 30 inches of rain. Fifty-four inches made it difficult.” “My running joke with the cabinet secretary was that I had an easy year,” says Roth, whose term as district governor ended June 30. “My one fear was a hurricane. Then the call came in … .” Like other Lions, Roth had to balance work and service. He’s a manager at an organ bank at a hospital in Houston. His “vacation” was spent attending to the consequences of Harvey. “I told my boss I needed to take some days off. I had plenty of vacation time in the bank.” Roth lives in Houston on the first floor of a high-rise. The waters crept toward the steps but came no further. Less fortunate were many other Lions whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged. Lions in Huffman and Hardin suffered great personal losses. Don Haven, a Huffman Lion, had two feet of water in his home. “It’s gutted−the whole place. There’s nothing left,” says Haven, 79. “We were anticipating we’d have 20 or 30 inches of rain. FIFTY-FOUR inches made it DIFFICULT.” “I’m president, so as soon as we get the Lions back together, we’ll get going. A lot of us had damage. Some not as bad as others,” he says. The club took $3,000 it had and donated food and provided portable toilets to a shelter at a church. “That’s what we do. We’re about helping,” says Haven. Second Vice District Governor Tony Austin, a Humble Noon Lion, saw many of his possessions ravaged by floodwaters. Amid the pile of ruined goods in front of his home was a damaged framed photo−“my most prized possession”−of he and his Lions’ mentor in his native South Africa. Yet the readiness of others to lend a hand cheered beleaguered Texans. LCIF Chairperson Chancellor Bob Corlew toured parts of Texas to assess needs−and to add an extra pair of hands. “It brought a tear to my eye, and I don’t cry easily. There was Chair Corlew and [Past International Director] Al Picone with a bad knee unloading the pallets of water,” says Roth. Later, another moving moment, a grateful recipient beseeched the Lions’ contingent to gather in a circle to pray. What went around came around—in a very good way. Davis, hurrying to various locations to orchestrate aid, spied the man whom she had helped rescue in her boat. He was standing in line for food at a shelter. “I wanted to give him a hug,” she recalls. “But he hugged me first.” CLUBS AID TEXANS Many Ledyard Lions in Connecticut went without power or running water for a week after Superstorm Sandy five years ago. So after Hurricane Harvey members collected money and gift cards at club meetings and also donated the funds of the sale of its Yo-Yo balloon at a fair. Sag Harbor in New York also was in Sandy’s path, and Lions there donated part of its annual Andy’s Run to aid Texas as well as other funds. The club expected to send $2,000 to LCIF for Harvey relief. Across the nation, remembering their own travails, Lions have sent funds to LCIF or loaded trucks of goods for Texans. Its members moved by the televised images of the scope of the disaster, clubs in towns without any recent history of a calamity also provided relief. Among many others, Sevier Lions in Tennessee collected items such as diapers, cleaning supplies and tarps. Lisbon Lions in New York stationed themselves outside a Walmart to collect donations. Mass-apequa Lions and Lions from nearby clubs in New York filled a 53-foot semi-truck with nonperishable food, blankets and emergency supplies. On the other side of the country, Carpinteria Lions in California passed a hat at a meeting and garnered more than $1,000. The Aberdeen Lions Club in Maryland raided its closet−its medical closet−to help Texans. The club donated 25 walkers. Lions in Texas dug deep for their fellow Texans. Amarillo Lions hosted a Fill the Truck event, and Ysleta Lions dedicated the proceeds of an RC race car competition to Harvey. LIONS FILL NEEDS AFTER IRMA IN FLORIDA After Hurricane Irma pounded Florida, District Governor Betty Barrera learned from a Lion that several dozen low-income people were left homeless after damage to their 19-floor housing complex. She made a beeline to a parking lot across the street from their shuttered home. They had been in the hot Miami sun for nearly a week. “Can I get you food?” “We don’t need food. We need to get out of the sun,” they told Barrera, who lives in Pembroke Pines. So Barrera and Lions went to Home Depot and bought 13 tents with open sides. They also purchased 22 chairs, two tables, a camping bed for an elderly woman and medicine for sunburn. Lions later provided food, made possible, like the tents, thanks to an LCIF emergency grant. Lions in District 35 N also provided food and other goods for a shelter in Hollywood for residents of a trailer park and for two shelters at Florida International University in Miami. One shelter was for evacuees from the Florida Keys and the other for people with special needs. An LCIF grant also financed that aid. “LCIF was great. They had called me and asked me what we were doing and what we needed,” says Barrera. Notwithstanding widespread damage caused by Irma, the hurricane actually was not as catastrophic as anticipated. “We were well-prepared. We saw what happened in Houston. There were long lines for days [before Irma hit] for food, water and gas,” says Barrera. Communication was a problem. The internet was a casualty of Irma, and cell phones were often useless. As of press time, Barrera was still unsure of how Lions in the Florida Keys were personally impacted. But she did reach a Lion in Marathon, who told her not to send food. “We have food. That would just get wasted,” he told her. He told her to get back to him in a couple weeks. Extra Digital Content Hurricanes and Lions have a long history. Read how Lions nationwide responded after Camille devastated the Gulf Coast.
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