Leonard Harvey hasn’t slept very well this week. Without power or heat in his Port Lavaca home, Harvey spent Monday and Tuesday night sleeping in his truck as the nighttime temperatures dropped to 22 degrees.
“Probably in the last three days, I’ve had an hour and a half or two hours of sleep,” he said.
But on Wednesday, Harvey and his family heard that Parkway Port Lavaca had opened its doors and was offering a warm place to stay, electric outlets with power, and a hot meal. Harvey, 51, got a chance to charge his phone and a break from the cold weather.
Harvey and thousands of other Crossroads residents are still struggling to stay warm and safe in homes with no heat, no power, and no water, days after the winter storm first brought record-breaking cold temperatures to Texas and overwhelmed the state’s electric system.
Throughout the region, nonprofits, churches, schools and local government agencies have responded to quickly create ad hoc warming centers and overnight shelters, offering desperate families a few hours away from the cold or even a place to stay this week.
In Port Lavaca, Samuel Flores, the campus pastor for Parkway Port Lavaca, and his wife Melissa Flores realized the church still had power Tuesday and the roads had cleared enough for people to safely drive. Within hours, a warming shelter was created.
“Honestly, a lot of it was in the moment,” Flores said.
Other churches in Port Lavaca donated food. Members of Parkway’s community made home-cooked meals, and the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent offered boxed groceries for the church to hand out.
Victoria’s school district, like other Crossroads districts, closed campuses for the week as temperatures plummeted. Road conditions, water supply issues and electrical outages contributed to the district closures, according to a district news release.
School officials opened Hopkins and Crain elementary schools Thursday to serve as warming centers, offering a hot meal and a place to charge phones and other electronics for anyone in need.
Families trickled into the Hopkins Elementary School’s cafeteria Thursday to pick up a hot meal. Principal Leandra Hill greeted families as they came inside, remembering which parents had more kids or family members waiting at home and needed additional lunches to take with them.
Students and community members were welcomed with warm food and temporary relief from the cold. The campuses will reopen on Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On Thursday, the district served 561 meals at Hopkins and 505 meals at Crain, district spokesperson Ashley Scott said. Lines for food remained beyond the 2 p.m. closing time, but community members were not turned away.
“It shows how desperate the need is for our community,” Superintendent Quintin Shepherd said. We weren’t sure what we were going to get today.”
The warming centers at Hopkins and Crain came together in the matter of hours, Shepherd said. District officials had to take into account which locations had electricity and COVID-19 safety precautions.
Shepherd said he didn’t want to serve just students but the whole community instead. With the warming sites, people came in to charge phones, ate a warm meal and enjoyed a warm room.
“We had a great day today,” Shepherd said. “I am in high spirits despite the weather.”
Across town, at Faith Family Church, Justine Dominguez had finally found respite from the weather for her, her 4-month-old daughter, and the rest of their family. Dominguez, 19, her boyfriend, her sister-in-law, and their kids had left their Vanderbilt homes Sunday after losing power. They briefly found a warm place to stay at a hotel in Victoria, before the hotel, too, lost power.
Faith Family opened first on Wednesday to offer hot meals, a place to shower, and other resources for people without power and water. In total, pastors at the church estimated 200 people have come to take a shower or get a break from the cold throughout Wednesday and Thursday. The church previously opened its doors in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, when dozens of relief workers used the church’s facilities.
“When we found out we had power, when we found out we had water, we were like, ‘How can we use this just to meet the immediate needs of our community?’” said Tony Velasquez, family ministries pastor.
Dominguez stopped by Faith Family on Thursday to get some food, and learned the church had a limited number of dormitories where she and her family could spend Thursday night. After a long week, they’ll stay overnight in a warm room in one of the church’s facilities.
“The baby knows when I’m sad, so I have to be happy around her,” Dominguez said. “But at night I do talk to my boyfriend, and I’m like, ‘This is not right.’”
Despite the challenges of the last few days, Dominguez said her family has tried to stay positive and optimistic.
“We try to make the most of it and forget everything that’s happening.”