“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity. A time to tear down and a time to build.” – Ecclesiastes 3

With a presence in every zip code in the United States, The Salvation Army was uniquely positioned to support those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Their national network of trained disaster staff and volunteers were deployed to several locations to provide food, hydration, clean-up kits, hygiene supplies, and emotional and spiritual care to first responders and survivors. Multiple staging and logistical centers were also established throughout southeastern and Gulf Coast states.

Pastor Alexis Twito, Head of The Salvation Army Milwaukee County Chaplaincy Program and Marcine Spoke, Chaplain in The Salvation Army Milwaukee County Chaplaincy Program, were both deployed to Texas on September 10, with a return scheduled for September 23.

“Response efforts to these catastrophic weather events will be costly and last for years,” said Major Steve Merritt, the Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army in Wisconsin & Upper Michigan. “With generous public support, The Salvation Army will be here to help the millions affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma for as long as they’re in need.”

The Salvation Army said that 100 percent of designated gifts would be used in support of those affected by both weather events.

Pastor Alexis Twito has been describing her experience with the recovery effort via social media since she left Milwaukee. “Bit by bit, we will rebuild.”

On Monday, September 10, I began my first day of a two-week deployment in Victoria, Texas doing hurricane relief work with The Salvation Army. I’m serving here on the Emotional & Spiritual Care Team. And after only a week, I’ve seen something that gives me hope. Today, I saw signs of new life. Signs of rebuilding.

As we made the 45-minute drive into Victoria from the motel, we passed a huge caravan of bucket trucks and construction vehicles – an army of electricians, engineers, carpenters, and other laborers on their way to help the communities rebuild.

In various neighborhoods, the large pile of tree cuttings and branches sitting along the road that had been cleared away from the homes were starting to be collected and taken away.

Where yesterday there was none, today I saw cell phone towers erected and road signs being repaired and repositioned.

At the canteen over lunch, we served dozens of people taking a break from a long morning of cleaning, fixing, and building. People who were covered in drywall dust and paint, sweaty from working on broken fences and cleaning up disheveled living spaces, wearing hard hats and work belts. People who were working on their own homes and people who had been working on the homes of neighbors, friends or family members.

Recovery from Hurricane Harvey will be long. The devastation is so widespread. And in the midst of such extensive destruction and loss, and so much despair, days like today are hopeful. There are so many people at work, from all over the country, to help rebuild communities like a Victoria, Texas. I’m so proud of our Salvation Army volunteers doing their part to support the recovery work.

So we will continue to bring meals into neighborhoods where residents are working to rebuild their homes. And we will continue to make sure the laborers stay hydrated by giving them water and Gatorade. And when people need help knowing where to turn for help, or when they just need a shoulder to lean on, we’ll continue to send chaplains to provide emotional and spiritual care. And bit by bit, together, we will rebuild.

Day 1: Reported to the local Corp, serving as Incident Command, in Victoria for a morning briefing. There are about 5 or 6 canteens going out into Victoria and the surrounding areas, bringing lunch and dinner. And a lot of love. Some areas are still without power. And most are low income areas which had many challenges, even before the storm. We went out with a team for lunch and talked with dozens of people. Prayed with many. The neighborhood we were in has had its power back for a week, so most people were in cleanup mode. Weary from the work, but not in bad spirits. Some were transplanted from elsewhere where they lost everything. Those visits were hard. But mostly it was a privilege to be let into peoples’ lives for just a moment, and they were grateful we were there. I’m off now to a new location with the canteen to deliver dinner. Please keep us in your prayers.

Day 3: Didn’t have internet last night, so I couldn’t give an update. So, I’ll give a brief one more before we head out for our morning briefing. It was a good day. We went out again with canteen crews for lunch and dinner. This time we went to areas that were harder hit by the hurricane, in more impoverished neighborhoods. Talked to several families who’d lost everything! For most of them it was because they were in areas where there was major sewage backup. Some have had contact with FEMA, others still waiting. We talked with a FEMA worker for a bit, and learned that unless people have renters insurance, if they don’t own their residence, FEMA can’t do repairs. Not unless the landlords apply. But she said many of the landlords are cutting their losses and ignoring the properties. It’s pretty desperate for many of these families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Now, off to do it all over again!

Day 4: Not here a week, but it feels like longer. The days are loooong! And hot and humid. That plus the emotional weight of what we’re seeing and hearing has our Emotional & Spiritual Care team feeling the stress. And in the midst of it all, it’s hard to know if what we’re doing is helping. Though, there are moments – sitting with a guy for an hour as he tells us he didn’t know if he could go on but grateful for someone to talk to, & comforting relief volunteers after a rough day who didn’t know if they would go back the next day, but deciding to in the end, & handing food to a family who recently lost their mother/ wife who did everything for them and who now after the storm are feeling totally lost – in those moments, I know I’m here for a reason.

Day 5: An electrical cable repair team from Kentucky and Missouri pulled up to the canteen in their bucket truck; they had to repair the lines in front of where we were parked. I asked them if they wanted some chili dogs for lunch. They cheered a loud yes! As they hopped out of the truck and came to the window, I offered them water and Gatorade. And then I asked if they wanted any apples to go with the meal, since we’d gotten a huge donation of them overnight. One of the guys looked at me, then at the apples, and said, “are you serious? Yes! Oh my goodness – do you know how long it’s been since I had a nice crisp apple?!” I smiled, said he didn’t have to worry because I’d have him set with apples for as long as he liked, then proceeded to give him several that were the size of my face! He replied, “you have no idea how hard it is to eat well while on the road. Thank you!” Doing our bit to keep the relief workers hydrated, fed, and feeling good as they work hard!

Day 7: In the worship we led for the SA team, we wanted to focus on relationships. On the faces of the people we’re meeting. On those who we’re going to be taking with us in our hearts when we go. I was so touched by the stories my group shared. And I was reminded that I have been touched by the stories of a number of people since arriving. From the people I’ve met out and about on the streets of the local towns, to our own team of volunteers… so many whose faces and stories I’ll be taking home with me…

Disaster Relief Overview (Totals as of 9/11)

  • Deployed 95 mobile feeding units (Each unit can serve up to 1,500 meals per day)
  • Set up four field kitchens (Each field kitchen can serve up to 15,000 meals per day)
  • Served 446,158 meals
  • Distributed 6,771 food boxes
  • Served 496,369 drinks
  • Served 396,973 snacks
  • Distributed 11,022 comfort kits
  • Distributed 3,335 clean-up kits
  • Provided emotional and spiritual care to 23,694 first responders and survivors
  • Provided shelter for 2,917 individuals
  • Provided 65,468 hours of employee and volunteer service
© Photo

Alexis Twito and The Salvation Army Milwaukee County