FREDDIESVILLE TX: FLOODED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
“This hurricane was the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Delia from Freddiesville, a small neighborhood just north of the causeway leading into Galveston.
That statement is more than a little surprising when you consider how Freddiesville was flooded with an 8-foot surge of saltwater from Galveston Bay as the result of Hurricane Ike on September 13. Delia and her husband, known as “Champ,” lost their mobile home and all their belongings—except for a few dishes and a couple pieces of furniture—when it was destroyed by the floodwaters.
Champ recently completed treatment for throat cancer and is currently in remission. The two of them are living in what used to be Champ’s toolshed, though it is not well ventilated and has the typical oil and gas-stained floor of a workshop. A FEMA agent declared their property a total loss weeks earlier, but a trailer has yet to arrive.
So how can she be so happy all this happened? Because for Delia, life is all about others….
Delia’s neighbors say she has always been willing to give and to sacrifice. And when she learned how Ike had made an impact on one of her loved ones, her own losses faded into oblivion. Delia’s nephew is 36 years old now, but when he was young she helped raise him. Now a resident of Galveston, he has struggled with drugs for several years. When Ike was clearly headed directly for the island, he was among those who did not evacuate.
The experience of riding out the storm combined with the reality of the destruction and loss that was left in its wake had a sobering effect on Delia’s nephew. When she saw him recently for the first time since the storm, he had not touched any substance in weeks and was attending support meetings for his addiction.
“My nephew is a changed man. He’s become the boy again that I knew so many years ago,” Delia says. “If I had to lose everything for him to change, it was worth it.”
HELP FROM THE CHURCH
When you ask Delia and Champ about their needs, they both respond with the same answer: “We don’t need anything.”
“Except prayer,” Delia adds, “and a house.”
Even at 67 years of age, Delia works seven days week—on weekdays at Christus Healthcare in Houston, then on weekends cleaning houses for friends. “But I never miss church,” she says.
Though she considers herself Catholic, Delia is now attending Light Christian Center, pastored by Paul and Sandy Golden. Freddiesville was one of those forgotten communities that was for the most part neglected by outside assistance—until Light Christian Center came in to help. Delia and other residents are quick to praise the church for all the help they have provided by visiting homes and assisting with individual needs.
“They have been so good to us,” Delia says. “The whole neighborhood has been shocked by how much the church has helped.”
Light Christian Center also participated in the SCA Thanksgiving outreach, along with volunteers from The Fellowship of Texas City, the church that helped us serve 31,000 hot meals as an SCA relief site for the first two months after Ike.
MORE THAN TURKEY!
Delia and Champ came to SCA’s attention as we were facilitating a Thanksgiving outreach scheduled for Saturday, November 22, that was being planned by volunteers Karen and Brigido Gonzales from The Worship Center Houston. Brigido grew up in Freddiesville, and his mother and sister, Olivia, still live there.
Olivia recently left her job in Houston so she could have more time to take care of Ike-related insurance issues and repairs to her home—but also because she knew she needed to help others in her community. Olivia and Brigido had known Delia when they were children. But now with a family of her own and commuting daily into Houston, Olivia had not seen her former neighbor for many years—until they ran into each other at a gas station just a few days prior to the outreach.
When Olivia reported Delia’s living conditions to Karen and Brigido, they immediately passed on the information to SCA president Doug Stringer. Delia came to the outreach for a turkey dinner, but left with an armload of gifts from SCA, including one of Doug’s books—Born To Die That We May Live—a Somebody Cares bear, and $275 in Wal-Mart gift cards. She also got more gift cards from two guests who were visiting from a church in Melbourne, Florida, and one of several large coolers donated by DuPont for residents without refrigerators to use to keep things cold. Delia was overwhelmed with the generosity to the point of tears.
SCA also made others aware of Delia and Champ’s situation by introducing them to a freelance journalist who has connections with National Religious Broadcasters and several national Christian magazines, corporate representatives from DuPont, and two other ministries who specialize in the procurement of in-kind donations.
THE HOUSING DILEMMA
The sad reality is that Delia’s story is not an isolated one. In Oak Island, SCA met a middle-aged man who was living with his wife on the back of a flatbed truck. In that community as well as nearby Bridge City, many people are living in tents or in their cars. In Galveston, residents qualified for assistance to pay their rent for 17 months—then just after they got the first month’s payment they were told they had to pay the next two months rent themselves and get reimbursed. Many had already gone from shelter to shelter, sharing living quarters for weeks with total strangers. As one man said to an SCA staff member, “It seems like nobody cares.”
Housing issues are compounded by new building codes in coastal communities—like Freddiesville and Oak Island—which require all homes now to be elevated 12-feet above ground. With insurance companies strapped because of the vastness of the destruction, residents who were insured are receiving only a minute fraction of the funds they need to cover their losses, much less to rebuild their homes to the new codes. Additionally, many of Ike’s victims are uninsured, immigrants, or elderly citizens trying to navigate through the red tape of insurance claims and federal agencies while dealing with the emotional stress of losing their belongings. As one SCA relief worker said, “How do you tell an 80-year-old man who has lost everything that he can start over again?”
SCA’s mission is let these communities know somebody does care!
Oak Island is another community, like Freddiesville, that is unincorporated and is literally, “not even on the map.” When SCA first heard of the plight of Oak Island, a small fishing community that is largely Hispanic and Vietnamese, their residents—like those of Freddiesville—had received no outside assistance. SCA immediately equipped Oak Island Baptist Church to be a beacon of hope to the community by sending in showers, food and water, cleaning supplies, work-teams, and financial support. A community-wide outreach brought the previously segregated community together for barbecue, music, prayer stations, and games for the children. KSBJ Christian radio participated in the outreach and soon afterward spotlighted the church as its “church-of-the-week” to bring attention to its needs. Even a well-known singer has committed to help with the finances needed to rebuild homes.
“We helped put Oak Island on the map,” said Doug Stringer, who just two days before the outreach had connected with members of a housing committee being formed by Texas Governor Rick Perry. “We’ll try our best to do the same for Freddiesville.”
HOPE RESTORED FOR A COMMUNITY TRANSFORMED
The neighborhood today, she says, has changed dramatically since the days of her childhood, when children played in a neighborhood park and residents of all ages attended activities in a community center. Today, she says, children play in an empty lot.
“Freddiesville was forgotten after the flooding from Alicia in 1983,” she says, “Many houses were abandoned when people packed up and left, like a lot of people are doing now. If we don’t do something this time, it’s going to be worse than it was before.”
Olivia’s dream is to see her community transformed spiritually, economically, and ecologically. “I want to see green trees and grass and parks for the kids to play in.”
Working with the water department, Olivia has surveyed all the homes to determine which ones are occupied, which are being repaired, and which have been abandoned. She has meetings scheduled with the local commissioner’s office to get help for her neighbors. At the same time, she recognizes the role of the body of Christ in bringing them hope.
Olivia believes the Somebody Cares Thanksgiving Outreach might have been the key catalyst to Freddiesville’s recovery. With tears trickling down her face, she watched as neighbors came to the outreach—held at Primero Iglesia Bautista—for turkey dinners. Children had their faces painted and jumped in bounce houses while adults conversed at the tables. Employees from Old Navy in Baytown TX surveyed parents on the names, ages, and sizes of their children so they can bring Christmas presents to another outreach that will be hosted by Light Christian Center after Thanksgiving. A total of 75 turkeys were cooked on the grill or in deep fryers, and 1500 meals were served to residents of Freddiesville as well as nearby areas who heard about the dinner.
Many visitors stayed for the entire afternoon. As they left, they were able to take cases of water and cleaning supplies home with them. One woman, a grandmother, came—with the young granddaughter she is raising—along with a neighbor and her children. They both lost their Galvestons home and everything in them. The grandmother has just rented an apartment, but has no furniture. “We’re still blessed,” she says. “because every day we still get up! Every time I need something, God provides it somehow.”
“A lot of Kingdom came down that day,” says Mike Lynch from BloodNFire Minneapolis, who has also been serving as a field rep for SCA during Ike relief. “We were able to touch a lot of people’s hearts.”
“My neighbors are here today, and their faces have changed,” Olivia said.
The pastor’s wife from the host church also noticed the change. “This is the first time since the storm I’ve seen them smile like this,” she said.
Even more important, residents were inspired to press on. Instead of returning to their homes feeling forgotten or even undeserving of help, many of them approached Olivia and said they were ready to assist her with her vision to restore the community.
“Out of the place of difficulty, comes the place of opportunity,” said Doug Stringer when he prayed for the community. “We pray that things will be better in Freddiesville than they ever were before.”
Your faithfulness in giving allows Somebody Cares America to continue serving communities like Freddiesville that are in desperate need. Donations may be mailed to PO Box 570007, Houston TX 77257. To make your donation online – DONATE HERE!. Somebody Cares America is a member of the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountabilty. Thank you for caring!