Katrina survivor gives back through Toys for Tots program (w/video)

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Dec. 13, 2013 at 6:13 a.m.

Mark Longoria, outreach pastor at Faith Family Church, left, and Henry Adams discuss plans for Toys for Tots related activities at Walgreens on Wednesday. Longoria runs the Toys for Tots campaign in Victoria and Walgreens is an official sponsor.

Mark Longoria, outreach pastor at Faith Family Church, left, and Henry Adams discuss plans for Toys for Tots related activities at Walgreens on Wednesday. Longoria runs the Toys for Tots campaign in Victoria and Walgreens is an official sponsor.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

Hours before Henry Adams locked down the 9th Ward Walgreens pharmacy - where he worked as the store manager in 2005 - he informed anyone within earshot they needed to leave town.

Hurricane Katrina was hours from making landfall in New Orleans, a storm later characterized as one of the five deadliest in United States history.

The roads were a ghost town, and heavy rain and winds were twisting violently when Adams' wife, Bobbi, arrived at the store in the couple's van.

"We're leaving. Get in the car," she shouted over the rain.

It wasn't yet closing time, but Adams did not want to risk the life of his wife or the lives of his children.

"I had no idea when I locked up the store that night, it would be the last time those doors would ever open," Adams, 48, said.

For the next 10 hours, Adams said he prayed more than he ever had before.

"We didn't stop praying. We prayed through the drive, we prayed moving here. We have prayed every step of the way for God to protect us," he said.

A week after the storm, with little more than the clothes on their backs, an exhausted and melancholy Adams family arrived in Victoria to begin their lives again.

Money was tight for months, but as soon as Adams could put a few dollars aside, he bought each of his children a bicycle.

He's never forgotten how that small gesture put a smile on each of their faces.

Eight years later, hoping to give back to the community that helped his family during their time of need, Adams has teamed up with Toys for Tots and Victoria area Walgreens stores to help collect more than 12,000 new toys for children in need this Christmas.

The Hurricane

A few weeks after relocating to Victoria, Adams accepted a managerial position with Walgreens in Victoria.

With more than a decade of experience with the company - he had worked previously in several locations throughout Louisiana - he required no training in the position.

Clothes, food, financial support, furniture, among other items were donated to Adams to help his family get settled.

And when he had a few extra dollars to spare following Katrina, Adams wanted to buy his four children, Jessica, Joseph, Josephine, James, and his niece Jackie, new bicycles.

"Whether it's bikes or toys, it's important to give them something to take their minds off tragedy or tough times," Adams said. "It's a beautiful thing to see their eyes light up. They forget about everything for a while."

Adams returned to 9th Ward Walgreens a few months after the storm.

It was destroyed by the winds and flooding as was the surrounding neighborhood.

His home, too, and everything inside was a total loss.

"When I went back to survey the damage, it was unreal," he said. "Homes gone. Cars destroyed. There were people doing body searches. It was like a war zone."

The damage, he said, was even worse than Hurricane Andrew's damage, which destroyed his home 14 years earlier when he and Bobbi were living in Homestead, Fla.

"That's how we ended up in New Orleans," Adams said.

Settling in Victoria

Eight years after Katrina, Adams and his family have permanently settled on the south side of town.

Adams works as the store manager at the Walgreens located at the intersection of North Navarro and Sam Houston streets.

He's also become active in jail ministry, in which he visits the Victoria jail each week to minister to the men about faith and righteous living.

"I love it. It's my passion," Adams said. "I enjoy getting a chance to minister to these guys and see what God does in them."

His daughter, Jessica, now 25, is a new mom; Joseph, 21, is serving in the U.S. Army; Josephine, 15, attends St. Joseph High School, and James, 14, attends Our Lady of Victory. Jackie, 22, who was living with Adams during Katrina, returned to her family in Mississippi.

Bobbi is a stay-at-home mom.

The hand-me-down furniture that was donated during the family's relocation to Victoria remains in their home as a reminder of the city's charity. He always knew when he had the opportunity to give back, he would.

"We don't have much, but we have each other," Adams said. "When we die, nothing we own matters. It's taken me a long time to figure that out."

Toys for Tots

The national U.S. Marine Corps-driven Toys for Tots is headed up this year by Faith Family Church and the Victoria Police Department.

As a former U.S. Navy and Army sergeant, spending about a decade of his life in the military and serving two tours abroad, Adams knew he wanted to be affiliated with the effort.

"I feel really good about the military connections with this organization," he said. "I'm honored to give back to Victoria, the community that helped me and my family when we needed help."

Inside Adams' Walgreens store, he has hanged signs throughout the aisles, reminding people to donate toys in the collection bins on the way out of the store.

"I want to collect as many new toys as possible," he said. "Whatever was collected last year, I want to blow that out of the water."

Faith Family Church outreach minister Mark Longoria said Toys for Tots in the Crossroads aims to collect more than 12,000 new toys for about 5,000 underprivileged children throughout south Texas.

"We've collected about 9,000 toys, but we still need a few more," Longoria said, mentioning the more than 150 toy drop off locations in the area.

Longoria said Walgreens is one of their partners each year, but he's thrilled Adams is volunteering with Toys for Tots since he knows first hand what a difference one toy can make in a child's life.

"It's great to see his heart, and I think it's awesome that he wants to give back," Longoria said. "The children we serve get mesmerized with their toy, and they're not focused on losing everything or living in poverty; they're focussed on that toy."

Distributing Christmas

On Sunday at DeLeon Plaza, Adams will be assisting Faith Family and the Victoria Police Department with the distribution of toys.

Thousands of children are expected to attend the event, which includes Christmas festivities like meeting Blue Santa, sipping hot cocoa and riding toy trains.

"There's also going to be the nice backdrop of the Christmas lights," Longoria said.

Adams said he wasn't sure why God brought him to Victoria, but he's felt for many years he's been brought here for a purpose.

Whether he's serving children through Toys for Tots or ministering to prisoners at the jail, Adams knows his life has been saved for a reason.

"I believe I've been so blessed and that God wants me to return what I've been given," he said. "And at least on Sunday, for a little while, help a few thousand kids have a very happy Christmas."



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