Ever since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas Aug. 25, the storm and various recovery efforts have been among the top national news stories, and rightfully so. It was one of the strongest storms to hit the U.S. in over a decade, and the rainfall and flooding it brought was unprecedented.
People from all over the country are finding ways to help with recovery efforts in Texas and Louisiana. The Iowa Red Cross has deployed more than 50 volunteers to southeast Texas since Harvey hit. One of those volunteers, Allen Van Beek, hails from Rock Rapids.
Van Beek has been volunteering with different divisions of the Red Cross since 2012. He first volunteered with the Sioux City Red Cross, and earlier this year received a five-year pin from the Red Cross, thanking him for his service.
Van Beek was among a group of volunteers deployed to Texas Aug. 26, the day after Harvey made landfall. The heaviest rains, which fell over the Greater Houston area, didn’t begin until Aug. 27 and 28. Van Beek hasn’t personally seen the destruction and devastation from the flooding, but he said he’s hoping to make it over to Houston or Beaumont before he leaves the state.
“I’ve been in Austin pretty much the whole time. I’m working out of headquarters here doing feeding, mobile feeding, bringing food to shelters, distributing emergency supplies and things like that,” said Van Beek. “I’m hoping eventually to get to Beaumont or Houston, even if it’s just to take a look around. I know the water has finally receded in Houston so on my next day off I’m hoping I get a chance to go to that area with some other friends of mine that are down here.”
He’s paid plenty of attention to local and national news, however, and has heard from some folks who were hit hard by the storm. Van Beek said that, even though a lot of people have lost so much due to the storm, they have been very grateful for all the volunteers who have come to the area.
“When we’ve gone out, whether it’s to eat or go shopping, we’ve heard from people who’ve been through a lot and they’re still really grateful. I went out to eat at one place with a couple of friends here in Austin and when we were going to get our checks, the guy next to us paid for our orders. He said, ‘Thank you for your service and for what you’re doing down here to help us,’ and he paid for our meal.
“It’s been very humbling,” said Van Beek, who anticipates spending another few weeks in Texas before potentially going to Florida, which is bracing for impact from Hurricane Irma. “I’ve had people criticize me for doing it because I go to these places for free and I’m not making any money, but I said I would rather go down and help somebody who’s lost everything rather than do the money thing because that’s the Christian thing to do. That’s what I learned from my dad. He would help people out a lot so I learned that from him.”
Van Beek was deployed on three different occasions to Florida less than a year ago after Hurricane Matthew impacted the area. He also aided in recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and after flooding devastated parts of eastern Iowa and Louisiana.
He said he’s considering taking a week or two off, if things wind down in Texas sooner rather than later. “I might go home for a little bit and get ready for the next one,” he said, referring to a potential deployment to Florida.
“I volunteer a lot to go on these trips but it’s very rewarding work, and I enjoy it, too. I’ve made new friends every time I’ve gone on one of these deployments. I like being able to help people and I really can’t see myself doing anything else.”
The Red Cross expects to continue its work in Texas and Louisiana in the coming weeks, and has already started deploying volunteers and staff to Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Irma’s landfall. More than 50 volunteers with the Iowa Red Cross remain in Texas, and a small handful of volunteers have been deployed to Florida as well.
All told, more than 3,500 Red Cross disaster workers continue to assist in Texas, and more than 150 workers are currently stationed in Louisiana.