With Mermaid’s Kitchen gone but their home still standing, J.P. and Samantha McCrary and their family switched into recovery mode. As a young couple, the McCrary’s came from different religious backgrounds, but they agreed they were to show Christ to others through their actions or simply stated, “show love”. As the family considered what they could do while in East Texas waiting to return to hurricane-devastated Rockport, they started a “little” Facebook fundraiser. By the end of the day Monday, August 28, 2017, over $6500 was raised. They went shopping.
When the family left the Texarkana Sam’s Club, Walmart and Academy, they loaded $10,000 worth of supplies on a 16-foot trailer and in their Suburban. Businesses wanted to help also. They had beans, rice and ground meat, cases of eggs and tortillas. “We had everything I could think of that I could cook in bulk and feed people for a few days,” said Samantha. “That was the plan – we were going to feed people for a few days.”
The teen daughters decorated the windows of the vehicle, declaring “Rescuing Rockport” and on the back, tagged their convoy “Rockport Relief Camp”. These young creative minds had no idea what those words would come to mean to the survivors of the devastation in Rockport and the surrounding area.
They started out with 20 cases of water and every place they stopped, people immediately gave them more. One woman at a Dollar General donated a case of sunscreen. Samantha said at each stop, they would take the tarps off, rearrange things and put the tarp back on. The nine-hour trip to Rockport took 12 hours.
Mermaid’s Kitchen’s big pots, propane burners and grill did not need electricity or natural gas. Because of Samantha’s professional experience following health codes, they set up a screen tent to prepare the food and a dishwashing station and just started cooking.
The McCrary’s fed 200 the first night. Because there is a water well on the property and they had generators borrowed from a friend, there were large containers of tea and Gatorade full at all times. And, coffee, lots of coffee, five to six gallons per day.
As they fed people breakfast and lunch, the McCrary’s would hear individual’s struggles such as, “I could get into my house but there’s a big tree down and I can’t move the tree.” So, they started putting teams of people together.
Volunteers came from Tennessee, Michigan, Nevada, all over Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana – people were coming from everywhere. “Then we had the problem of where the volunteers could stay,” said Samantha. So, they started setting up tents and cots on the McCrary’s property. Rockport Relief Camp now became a shelter for volunteers as well as hot meals for survivors.
Samantha said they noticed the same people showing up for breakfast and lunch every day in the same clothes. They began asking people where they were staying, and many were living in their cars. They made the decision then to begin letting people stay on their property in tents.
They added outdoor showers, port-a-potties and handwashing stations. At one time over 100 people were staying on the property. Rockport Relief Camp now served hot meals, passed out donated supplies, welcomed out-of-town volunteers and gave survivors a place to live.
In October 2017, Samantha began working on a non-profit status which became the Rockport Relief Camp foundation – the hastily written convoy name just stuck. They had planned to feed people for a couple of weeks, but it grew and grew.
A San Antonio Fire Station called and asked about pets then sent a 53-foot flatbed filled with pet food.
As fast as supplies came in, volunteers unloaded, sorted and began handing it out. About half of the volunteers were from the local area. People were coming to pick up supplies from Port Aransas, Aransas Pass, Ingleside, Refugio and even as far away as McAllen and Uvalde.
Following their simple goal of showing love, Rockport Relief Camp was known for not turning anyone away. Then Samantha said she received a call from the manager of the Walmart in Aransas Pass telling her she needed to cut the UPC off the diapers, formula and everything else they were handing out. People were returning the donated items for cash.
The volunteers began watching closely and realized some people from the same household came in different vehicles every day to get the full amount of weekly supplies. Then, by visiting and asking about employment, they found out some were receiving Snap and other government assistance and were not looking for work.
“That’s when we realized we were feeding the bears,” said Samantha. “You know, like the signs you see in the park that say, ‘Do not feed the bears because they will become dependent and unable to fend for themselves’.” She added, “That’s when we put the area restrictions on and when we put our new criteria in place some people became angry.”
Rockport Relief Camp now requires an ID, such as a driver’s license, showing residence in Rockport, Port Aransas, Aransas Pass or the areas in between. To receive supplies, half of the adults in the home must show proof of employment 40 hours per week unless they are disabled or senior citizens. Even with these new restrictions, 200 – 250 households regularly continue receiving supplies.
“It’s still crazy but not nearly as crazy”, said Samantha. “Now it’s pretty much just crazy two or three days a week. The rest of the time, it’s just a mess.”
Rockport Relief Camp will continue providing some supplies, but donations are getting hard to come by according to Samantha. They are still receiving help from the Texas Diaper Bank and the San Antonio Diaper Barn and two local churches. They continue to provide shingles and insulation when possible. The only hurricane victims who continue to live on the property are ones who need to complete repairs on an RV to get into a park and one veteran who is completing medical treatment so he will be employable.
There is a very quiet group in Boerne, Texas to which Rockport Relief Camp has been able to submit some small businesses and homeowners for assistance. Rockport Relief Camp has also joined with the First Baptist Church for a Back to School fundraiser to provide 3500 pairs of new shoes.
As the foundation’s work slows and plans for a new Mermaid’s Kitchen’s adventure begins and Harvey’s one-year anniversary approaches, Samantha McCrary said, “It’s time to get my home back to my home.”