When hurricanes strike, American businesses get to work

Hurricane Harvey punched a hole through the roof and knocked out power to Matthew Otero’s donut shop in coastal Rockport, Texas, but Otero stayed open to serve neighbors and rescue workers.

“I had a generator,” says the Rockport Donuts proprietor, and as he told a Wall Street Journal reporter, “I knew coffee was going to be important.”

When disasters like hurricanes strike, federal, state and local rescue workers turn out in force along with the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other big charities.

Woman handing bag to child (© AP Images)
A volunteer hands out free school uniforms and supplies to a mother and her two daughters at a Houston social services center. (© AP Images)

But after a disaster like Hurricane Harvey, which devastated southeast Texas in late August, businesses small and large do their part too, exemplifying a spirit of volunteerism that Americans are known for.

When emergency shelters hit capacity, Max Bowl, a big bowling alley in Port Arthur, Texas, invited people in. About 600 families and rescue workers bedded down on every inch of the bowling alley’s floors, including between the gutters on its polished, wooden lanes. “We have lots of pizza, but need milk, baby supplies & bedding,” the bowling alley posted on Facebook. The business is operating as usual now, but still collecting relief supplies, according to manager Jeff Tolliver, who was flooded out of his own home.

Mattress seller Jim McIngvale, a familiar figure in Houston for his ubiquitous television ads, did what he’s done in previous disasters. He threw open the doors of two massive Gallery Furniture stores for flood victims and National Guard members to sleep on expensive mattresses and sofas.

“I was taught it is better to give than receive,” says the man known as “Mattress Mack.”

Buc-ee’s, a chain of convenience stores and gas stations, had been preparing to open a super-sized highway restaurant and service stop August 28 in Katy, outside Houston. But when the hurricane hit, it opened the facility early just for first responders, providing free food and a place to sleep.

With help from 500 volunteers and $3 million in donations, the Texas Diaper Bank, a San Antonio–based charity, shipped 1 million diapers, incontinence supplies and hygiene kits to shelters along the battered Gulf Coast. “We’ve gotten amazing support from all across America,” says Jorge Medina, director of the charity.

Magpies Gifts, three home décor and accessory shops owned by Megan Beauchamp and her family, was untouched by the flooding while nearby neighborhoods were under water. Casting about for ways to help, Beauchamp decided to help wash laundry for flood victims. “We will come by and pick it up, wash it and return it to you. It’s the least we can do at this time of need,” Magpies Gifts posted on Instagram and Facebook.

Back came a message from a follower, Prina Naran Spillane, who wrote, “My husband and I own a Washateria and would be privileged to aid in your laundry efforts [with] our 45 washers and 55 dryers.”

As Houston recovers from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the owner and operator of Señor Suds Washateria, Jeff, has…

Posted by Señor Suds Washateria on Sunday, September 3, 2017

Two weeks and two tons (and counting) of laundry later, the Spillanes are still hosting late-night “laundry parties” at their Señor Suds Washateria, where volunteers keep those machines humming.

Beauchamp, who started it all, says, “I just thought if we all do a little bit, we can get this city rolling again.”