HURRICANE HARVEY – Answering the Call to Help Harvey Survivors in Pasadena

Hurricane Harvey One-Year Reflection

My wife and I can still remember the phone call that started it all. The City of Pasadena’s Office of Emergency Management called to ask if we could open our Pasadena Corps Community Center’s doors in case there were neighbors in need, to which we responded that we’d open our gym to serve a hundred people.

After that phone call we had an important decision to make. We have two children and if we wanted to serve our neighbors day in and day out, we knew it would be difficult with them here. God heard our concern for our dear friend Lieutenant Chantel Millin in Temple, Texas called to offer to take care of our kids. I still remember thanking her but letting her know we would call right back. As parents it wasn’t an easy decision. My oldest daughter was scared to leave us here, since we had never experienced a hurricane before. We knew that God would take care of our kids so we sent them to Temple in order to be fully dedicated to serving our neighbors.

It Begins

When Hurricane Harvey hit, we had been at the Pasadena Corps Community Center for two days waiting for the City to call to let us they were sending people our way. My wife and I would look through the windows and we couldn’t believe how strong and devastating the wind and rain were.

Finally, on the third night, around ten at night, the City called saying they were sending the first few neighbors. We were eager to help but also nervous, aware of the reality we were about to face.

First Arrivals

We were anticipating the arrival of a bus, instead we saw a big dump truck full of people in wet clothes. Most of these people had nothing more than what they had on that day. We immediately opened our doors and gave them dry towels and clean clothes to change into. While I was taking care of their clothes, my wife started serving hot coffee and sandwiches we had prepared in advance.

All of them were afraid and shocked about what was happening. All that first night, survivors shared their stories of how their homes were flooded and how they were rescued. While they were processing everything that was happening, we were able to give them a dry place to lay their heads and a warm blanket to cover themselves.

What about the pets

The night didn’t stop there. By midnight, we had our second group of people, and we did the same thing, but his time they were bringing pets. Pets! We were prepared to shelter families in the gym but what were we going to do with pets? We had dogs of all sizes, cats, and birds. After thinking how we could accommodate them, we decided to open one of our classrooms and have them all there. The smell was impressive, but all the owners worked together to make sure that they were fed, and they could get along while they were there.

Day after day, dump trucks continued coming until we had over two hundred people in our gym. My wife and I were exhausted and finally, on the fifth day of being there day and night, some of our employees were able to make it to the center and relieve us. We were finally able to go home, take a bath and rest a little bit.

Community come together

The families we served were so grateful of the love and care The Salvation Army provided. Restaurants started to send us meals. Families were eating well, the kids were having fun in our game room, and the adults were able to rest and get strength for what was ahead. Finally, things started to calm down and the families, one by one, left our gym. They all said they felt our love towards them and we said our final good bye. Our work was not done yet.

The very next day, we filled our mobile kitchen with food and drinks and went out to serve our community. The City had 2,000 volunteers assisting with relief efforts and they asked The Salvation Army if we could feed them. For the next three consecutive days, we served a total of 6,000 meals from three mobile kitchens. After two weeks of going out into the Pasadena community to serve them nonstop, the city was doing fine in reestablishing and helping residents get back to their normal lives. Finally, after more than two weeks, my wife and I reunited once again with our children.

Looking back

A month before Hurricane Harvey, my wife and I had just been commissioned as Officers (pastors) with The Salvation Army. We were recent arrivals to The Salvation Army Pasadena Corps Community Center, having come from Atlanta, Georgia where you receive your officer training, and were getting familiar with this new town and our new appointment.

Looking back today and reflecting on all we were able to do for our neighbors, I feel blessed and honored that I was able do this with my family.

We learned that you don’t have to have much to help others. All you need is the heart, the willingness to help those in need and be ready to take action. After all, this is why we joined The Salvation Army. This is why we serve in this community. My family got stronger going through this experience. My children learned about sacrifice for the good of others. The community of Pasadena learned that we can overcome anything if we act together towards the same goal.

We feel blessed to have been here to share our love and care with our neighbors when they needed it most. Yes, we were tired and exhausted, but we would do it all over again. In this journey, we met wonderful people. We pray for all who were affected by Harvey and we know that God is taking care of them every day.


About the Author

Lieutenant Luis Villanueva is currently serving as the Corps Officer of our Pasadena Corps Community Center. Both he and his wife Lt. Marianne Villanueva oversee The Salvation Army programs and services offered in Pasadena. Pasadena is their first appointment as officers, having been commissioned in June 2017.

Originally from Chile, Lts. Luis and Marianne Villanueva have been married since 2008 and are the proud parents of Rebecca, 10, and Lemuel, 4.