From Texas Public Radio:
It’s been just over a month since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf coast. In the storm’s wake, residents of Port Aransas were down but not defeated. People in the small island city banded together to patch up buildings and remove literal tons of debris. And, to feed each other. As we continue our Rebuilding After Harvey series, we visit with some of the few places providing free hot meals to residents and relief volunteers.
It’s lunchtime and a line 50 people deep stretches down the sidewalk in a baseball field near the center of Port Aransas.
The ball field is filled with tents, barbecue grills, and tables stacked with canned food. A sign at the entrance says “Free Food, Free Water, Free Hugs.”
“We’re just doing what we can to feed these guys. Since there’s not many restaurants open. We’re just waiting for the businesses to be able to handle the demand,” says Javier Garcia, a volunteer from Padre Island.
This is Cowboy Camp David. Garcia says the camp started just after the storm, when a man named David brought a barbecue pit and a camper and started cooking. “And then volunteers kept coming and the camp grew and together, it’s huge now,” Garcia adds.
Even after Harvey made landfall, people are still came here to eat. The storm destroyed or damaged about 80 percent of Port Aransas’s 800-plus homes. Garcia says many residents’ kitchens are inaccessible or out of commission, making the camp a staple in this recovery period.
There are at least three barbecue pits going today. Bobby Stevens and his wife came to Port A from San Angelo to help.
”And I’ve been doing demolition on houses everyday and it’s slowing down a little bit so I volunteered to come over here and cook,” Stevens says.
He’s standing over a flat-top grill with a mound of pulled pork.
“It was cooked and donated by a group of individuals called ‘roughnecks and rednecks.’ I don’t know where they’re from – around here somewhere. They showed up with 300 pounds this morning,” he says.
The pork is put into a tray and taken to a serving station with sausage, vegetables, and bottled water. More volunteers plate food for people in line. Javier Garcia says just about all this food is donated.
“And somewhere people give just give, you know, $20, $500, $1. All amounts, you know, and all that money gets put together and we go to Sam’s Club and buy what we need at that point,” Garcia says.
The closest Sam’s Club is 30 miles away, outside Corpus Christi.
In line is Cory Johnson from San Antonio. He’s here working with a contracting company.
“Some people out here don’t have homes no more and they got somewhere to eat still. They got clothes to give away, this is a blessing bro. A they’re helping us out, you know what I mean?,” Johnson says.
Behind him is Lisa Templeton. Her home was wrecked by Harvey.
“I got almost five-and-a-half feet of water inside the downstairs and then my ceiling caved in upstairs so my kids lost everything. Their bedrooms were downstairs,” she says.
She’s staying in a hotel at the Schlitterbahn water park about 18 miles away. She says it’s support like this from Camp David that helps people keep going.
“ I have no words actually. ‘Thank you’ just does not seem good enough.”
Tears fill her eyes as she grabs a piece of watermelon.
“If people think Humanity is dead they need to some to port a because it’s alive and well here,” Templeton adds.
A few blocks away is Shells Restaurant. It’s an Italian place. It didn’t receive much damage so it was able to operate during certain hours a couple weeks after the storm.
Inside, the night chef takes 10-pound trays of ravioli and plates them in to-go boxes. Heber Stone owns the restaurant with his mother. He says in their first day of providing free food, they made over 300 plates.
“We wanted to just touch base with everybody, that was the most important thing to me, get back to cooking, get out our employees back to working and then feed everybody,” he says.
Tourism makes up basically 100 percent of Port Aransas’ economy – more than 5 million visitors come here each year. Shells is one of ten restaurants that’s now open. There are about 60 restaurants on the island. Stone says he’s determination that will bring Port A back.
“I don’t think Port Aransas is going to take no for an answer. They’re just going for it, and the people that are here want to see this town get back to normal, and they want to feel that normal feeling themselves,” Stone adds.
Months of repair are on the horizon for just about everyone. The chamber of commerce says about half the restaurants hope to be back in operation sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Until then, volunteers say they’ll try to fill the gaps.