A week after Hurricane Harvey moved on, Galveston is open for business. Umbrellas are setup on the beach, and hotels are welcoming guests. Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn Waterpark, and the Pleasure Pier are open. People are going on dolphin tours, eating in restaurants, and shopping on The Strand.
The average tourist would never know anything happened, but Galvestonians see another side.
After Hurricane Ike flooded 70% of the island nine years ago, residents and businesses had to rebuild just as our neighbors are doing today. We remember the smell, the sounds of saws and hammers, and sitting on the curb staring at the mess. We also remember the help that we received from random strangers offering a hand or a free meal. Given that history, I am not surprised at how the island is offering a hand.
Gina Spagnola with the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce picked up the phone and started organizing. Representative Wayne Faircloth put her in contact with an Austin company who is generously assisting her in finding help from large retailers across Texas. She reached out to the other Chambers of Commerce in the county to determine their most urgent needs, and began working with The Salvation Army of Galveston, the American Red Cross, United Way, and many churches and non-profits throughout the county and beyond.
Approximately 300,000 bottles of water, cases of mosquito spray, shop vacs, tarps, bleach, mops, gloves, and trash bags have been sent to Beaumont, League City, and a staging area at Gulf Greyhound Park. They have secured a 10,000 square foot space at Mall of the Mainland, and will partner with the Red Cross and The Salvation Army to establish a recovery and distribution center for Galveston County. Their hope is to provide a place where all the resources needed - the Small Business Association (SBA), the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), food, clothing, counseling, pet supplies, blankets, cots, etc. - will all be in one place.
The Galveston Island Humane Society has become the distribution point for relocating displaced Galveston County animals, and receiving and distributing donated food and supplies.
Multiple churches have mobilized crews to help gut and clean homes on the mainland.
Crossfit Galveston helped to organize a barbecue fundraiser with other downtown businesses, and raised nearly $5,000 in just a few hours on Labor Day.
Ball High Students and other volunteers also spent Labor Day filling two trucks with food and water. The Smecca and Hart families kept the volunteers going with free pizza and ice cream.
Local celebrity chef Mary Bass has organized a fund raiser selling barbecue sandwiches on the mainland with the goal of handing $200 in cash to every school teacher in the county negatively affected by the storm.
While the generosity pours out, some people are just happy to have a job to come to on the island. Countless waiters, bartenders, and other tourism industry staff have lost cars and homes on the mainland. Seeing tourists return to the island offers a sense of hope and normalcy for them.
If you were affected by Harvey, consider taking a break and heading to the island. I promise we will roll out the welcome mat.
If you are not from the area, know that the little island off the coast of Texas survived just fine - and has a really big heart.