By Rick Kauffman
CHESTER >> In the aftermath of one of the most deadly and dangerous hurricane seasons on record – one that has claimed hundreds of lives and caused an estimated $200 billion in damages – the city is opening its heart to help the victims.
Those devastated by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, were on the minds of a group that gathered Wednesday in City Hall. A relief effort in Chester filled a trailer at City Hall with supplies destined for the battered Texas city – with those least fortunate the intended recipients.
Fred Green, the youth coordinator for the city of Chester, and Councilman William Morgan, spearheaded a relief drive, raising funds and gathering supplies to send the big rig down to Texas. Green said the initiative was the culmination of community activists working together.
“We’re going with community-based organizations that will give the greatest impact. We’ll go to homes, knock on doors and deliver them stuff,” Green said, who will fly to Houston on Thursday. “We’ll go to community centers and ask what they need.”
Green and Morgan partnered with Miracle Johnson, 28, an author from Philadelphia, who with the help from three friends – Tina, Telonda and Kenneth – decided to start gathering supplies for those in need. The donations started flowing in very quickly and her organization, PHL2TEXAS, needed to expand their horizons.
“Fred and I were picking up goods last night at 1 in the morning in Langhorne,” Johnson said. “If we all come together we can create magic, and we can do more good together. Three cities, five people and this is what it came out to.”
Businesses and individuals from Philadelphia, Chester and Wilmington have all contributed their business locations as donation drop-offs, while others have contributed supplies and monetary donations. Johnson added that a Philadelphia couple, Abby and Chris Anderson, were traveling to Houston to offer free haircuts.
“Working with Wilmington and Philadelphia in a collaborative effort shows the people really do care about others in need,” said Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, dressed casually in a T-shirt and white Phillies cap. The mayor got to work alongside members of the Chester Fire Department in loading the big rig outside Chester City Hall Wednesday afternoon.
In Houston, The Blacklist Association, Melanated Men of Action, National Black United Front, Houston Unity Tribe and the Tribe of Power, are the community groups that Johnson, Green, Morgan and company have linked up to distribute aid.
“These non-profits go into the high poverty, low-income areas of Houston, and I thought that was really important,” Morgan said. “We wanted to make sure we’d know it would go to the areas that we’re very familiar with.”
Morgan said it was important to find groups embedded in the impacted communities in order to get the aid directly to those in greatest need.
“We would need the help of so many people,” Kirkland said, mulling what might happen should Chester face a natural disaster such as the ones in Hurricane Alley. “And I know there are people in the world who would see our plight and reach out.”
Councilman Morgan said the damage impacting families is unfathomable, and said it was important to focus on communities of high-poverty, low-income individuals who “may be feeling left alone or forgotten about.”
“We have people here who could also benefit from the water and the diapers, and to think that people here with shelter might have those sort of needs, I can only imagine what the individuals down there who have nothing (are dealing with),” Morgan said.
On the first day of donations at City Hall, Morgan said within an hour the room they were using for storage was at capacity.
“We hit every age bracket, from infants to elderly, and we have so much water, toiletry items, diapers, food, clothing, and this is just our first initiative,” Morgan said, adding that a relief plan for individuals in Puerto Rico – ravaged by Hurricane Maria – also was in the works.
Two firefighters with the Chester Fire Department have family members in Puerto Rico. Hector Hernandez, who was among the half dozen from the department loading the truck Wednesday, said his great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins live in Santa Isabel, on the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
Hernandez said his relatives had been boiling all their water to destroy bacteria, and have no electricity or cell phone service. Efforts to fly down or send packages down have hit a wall — the TSA limits what items you can bring on board, while care packages were being stalled until October, he said.
“We bought eight pallets of water and we can’t ship out yet,” Hernandez said, adding that his large family received just two gallons of water when they reached an aid station.
But, he said he felt great relief when on Tuesday his mother finally made contact with their Puerto Rican relatives.
“It was stressful. You’re just waiting (to hear from them),” Hernandez said of the difficulties in reaching family members. “I was seeing places flooded and I could only imagine what it looks like where they’re from.”
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