Huntsville coming together following historic winter storms

·7 min read

Feb. 23—While the state government has received wide criticism for its lack of preparation ahead of the massive winter storm that devastated the state just last week, local communities have stepped up to prove that Texans are stronger together.

The Lone Star State is no stranger to natural disasters. Hurricanes and even the occasional tornado have crippled even the most developed communities. However, time and again, Texans' resilience comes from their dedication to take care of their own.

"Other places have had bad disasters and stuff like that and you see all of the news about looting, rioting, burning down buildings, you don't see that in Texas," said Tabitha Spencer. "Everybody's trying to do what they can to help everybody and it makes you kind of proud that we care more about each other and helping our neighbor than we do about making a profit off of this."

While many including Spencer were still struggling without water on Friday, Hot Tops Salon offered free shampoo and conditioning services to anyone in need. The salon was able to take care of 37 clients on Friday, offering a free wash, blow dry and styling, while serving warm, homemade cinnamon rolls and coffee.

"Going a week without showering, we just felt horrible," Spencer said.

It's not the first time that the local salon has stepped up to help the community in times of need. In 2017, Hot Tops Salon offered free hair services during Hurricane Harvey when Texas households faced similar impacts.

"I think it's very important to help each other and give back. This is our 21st year in business and we have been so blessed by Huntsville. Just to return a blessing like that, the smallest effort you can make, the smallest things that you can do, really makes people feel better and it just inspires. There's so many positive people out there that inspire me and I hope to inspire someone else," Hot Tops Salon owner Frederic Morris said.

After a rough week, the act of kindness was like a light that the storm and its struggles were finally coming to an end for Spencer.

"It was just really nice to have somebody, when all you've been doing is sitting there and just trying to survive bundled up in blankets, layers upon layers of clothes, shivering, you've gone a week without showering, baby wipe baths only make you feel so human," she said. "That little bit of just getting our hair washed and having that warm food makes us start to feel human again. It took us out of just wanting to sleep away the day to feeling like we can actually get out, we can actually interact with people and not feel like the living dead walking into the grocery store to try to find food."

Spencer lost power at her Sycamore Village apartment and was told that her water was being cut off on Monday to prevent her pipes from bursting, though as luck would have it, her building had been one of the few that had been missed.

As soon as she regained her power on Wednesday, her pipes burst, flooding her apartment with over an inch of standing water in her kitchen, living room and dining room areas. A member of her church helped clean up what they could with a shop vacuum and what little bit that was left dried up overnight with the heater running. Men that were helping the apartment owner came around and checked on her and helped her pour out any standing water in her light fixtures while neighbors she had never met went door-to-door to help clean up the apartment community.

"They were just going out of their way to help in any way they could," Spencer said. "It was just nice to see that there were people out there that were not getting anything out of it, they weren't getting free rent, they weren't getting paid, they were just helping."

"It's nice knowing that if things get bad, that there's people out there that really care, that aren't going to just try to profit off of it."

But, Spencer wasn't the only one to have community members rally around her in support.

"It all boils down to one person can make a difference whether it's just a hug, or a smile, or an ear, or even letting people come over and take a shower or have them make their family a hot meal — it boils down to one act of kindness," Jesseca Dannemiller said.

Friends, neighbors and community members reached out to the mother of three after her power went out Monday morning, followed by her water on Wednesday.

Family friends brought food and large trays of home cooked meals to keep her family nourished. Another family had her and her three kids over to use their shower while others offered to let her run a load of laundry.

"It's really good to see that if somebody is in need, almost everybody can pull together and make sure that we get through it," Dannemiller said.

Once both her water and electricity had been restored by Friday, Dannemiller was inspired by the hospitality received by her family and felt inspired to offer the same to the community through Facebook, opening her home to anyone in need of a shower, a hot meal or to run a load of laundry.

It was the help of the community that also helped Marissa Hylton save her tiny home after it was flooded with over an inch of standing water last week.

Hylton had left her tiny house to stay at her parents', where there was access to electricity and water, and returned to see that her home had flooded due to a drain that had frozen over while she was gone. Water that had accumulated inside had begun leaking through the exterior of the home, causing concern for Hylton.

Disabled and living alone, Hylton called on the community through a Facebook post to help dry up the water that she could not physically reach in her home. The response from a group of strangers was overwhelming.

"It was just absolutely wonderful how many people wanted to help," Hylton said. "I did not expect that many people."

A woman quickly answered Hylton's post and helped dry the floor under her bed, taking several bags of wet towels and blankets to her house to wash, dry and fold for Hylton, while another neighbor brought a fan to help dry out her house to the point where it is livable for now and won't immediately require her to relocate.

"I feel absolutely blessed that so many people came together to help and I didn't have to do it alone. We have a big village that everybody wants to help with everything and it made me feel so good to feel that people were eager," Hylton said.

Getting back on her feet, Hylton and her extended family soon found themselves short on food after losing electricity in their own homes. While grocery store shelves sat empty from trucks not being able to brave the weather, Hylton and her family sought the help of the Family Faith Church food bank. They're one of many resources in Walker County including Good Shepherd Mission, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Covenant with Christ Walker County Food Pantry, that have come together to bring food to the community free of charge.

With a history of helping the community for over 145 years, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, located just outside of Huntsville, was able to serve 247 families, or 920 individuals, through their mobile food drive on Saturday.

The food drives have been held every third Saturday since September of last year, typically helping 102 to 198 families at a time. Because the timing of the storm happened to coincide with the church's food drive scheduled for that weekend, they were readily prepared with plenty of food to give away.

"It's really a humbling experience to be able to help people," said Max Toliver Jr., the senior pastor at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. "Right now, we're trying our best to figure out what other resources are out there in the community and how we can help people out that way."

While homes, belongings and even businesses have been destroyed, more and more groups and individuals are taking matters into their own hands and looking at ways that they can rebuild their community themselves.