We can do it!
As the water rose outside her Houston home during Hurricane Harvey, Bobbie Wagner used an air mattress as a makeshift raft to float her dog and supplies through chest-high water to her neighbor’s two-story house across the street.
She knew she would be fine but also knew others were suffering.
Friend Karen McCrocklin of Oak Cliff heard about Wagner’s plight and offered to drive down and help.
“I said, ‘No, crazy! Stay where you are,’ ” Wagner recalls.
But then another friend, Capt. Iris Rodriguez of Houston Fire Department Station No. 8, said she needed flat-bottomed boats, medicine, food and other supplies.
So McCrocklin put out a call on Facebook.
That’s when Sara Offringa came into the picture: “I saw that a Facebook friend had offered, ‘I’ve got a jon (flat-bottom) boat if somebody needs it.’ Twenty minutes later, I see a post from Karen that said, ‘I need a boat.’ ”
McCrocklin picked up that boat, plus another she’d borrowed. She bought a trawling motor, and they set out on Interstate 45 hauling boats and trailers full of supplies.
“Sure enough, those boats were delivered the next morning,” Rodriguez says. “I was like, ‘Who was this crazy lady?’ ”
Rodriguez and McCrocklin wouldn’t meet in person for another week; McCrocklin had dropped off the boats, picked up a friend in Houston and turned around to drive the friend to a family member’s Austin home. Then she returned to volunteer in Houston.
Those two boats were involved in at least 14 water rescues. McCrocklin’s online fundraising efforts resulted in more than $25,000 in cash donations, about $40,000 in donated supplies and a fledgling nonprofit.
“This thing has exploded. We raised a lot of money in a hurry,” McCrocklin says. “It allowed us to put relief directly into the hands of people who needed it with no overhead.”
Friends and family from all over the world sent supplies to McCrocklin and Offringa.
“Let’s just say Amazon knows my address,” Offringa says.
The crew wound up helping many people in a low-income neighborhood of northeast Houston.
“We started focusing on that area because they had nothing,” she says. “Those people were isolated … they were cut off. All their cars were flooded, so they were stuck in the neighborhood, and that neighborhood doesn’t have big grocery stores or Walmart or anything like that. I’m super-happy that we were able to help people who had less access.”
McCrocklin, an LGBTQ activist, author and radio host who lives in Kessler Park, has trekked south with supplies several times since then.
“Now the need set has evolved,” she says. “Now they need flooring and paint and Sheetrock. They need money and volunteers.”
Friends are still delivering supplies to McCrocklin’s house and staging operations in her driveway.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez started a nonprofit, Texas Local Disaster Recovery Squad, with some of the cash they raised. She calls it “the lesbian mafia.”
That group has been busy rebuilding in the poorest parts of Southeast Texas.
Their goal is to get people back into their homes by fixing up three rooms: A bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen.
“It doesn’t take much, either,” Rodriguez says. “Just so they can start putting their lives back together.”
The group is continuing to raise money online — they’ve formed a board and already have legal nonprofit status — with a goal of being able to react to any natural or manmade disaster in Texas.
Wagner, who initially connected Rodriguez and McCrocklin, participated in water rescues for several days. They rescued people, pets, children, the elderly and sick. She refers to those two and herself as a “three-legged stool.” She communicated with and connected people; McCrocklin raised money and activated volunteers; Rodriguez and her crew set up distribution and strategy.
“It was all reaction,” she says. “You just kind of did it.”
While friends and acquaintances often refer to her as “amazing” and “phenomenal,” McCrocklin is reluctant to take much credit.
She says she received donations from friends near and far, and many have volunteered in Houston.
“It was really everyone else who made this work. It was a 100 percent group effort,” she says. “I just happened to be the conduit to connect the right people in a hurry.”
It’s going to take years for the area to fully recover from Harvey, Rodriguez says. Besides building supplies and furniture, residents still need major appliances — refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers.
The group continues to organize volunteer activities on Facebook. They post what they need, and anyone can sign up to help.
Rodriguez, who also is a sergeant major in the U.S. Army Reserves, has been a firefighter since 1993 and says being a public servant “is the best gift you can give yourself.”
“The team that we have is just phenomenal. We all have talent. It’s not just one person,” she says. “That’s what’s so great about it.”
Donate to the Texas Local Disaster Recovery Squad by searching youcaring.com for Texas LDRS Inc. Volunteer with the group via their Facebook page, Texas Local Disaster Recovery Squad.