Bayou City

In Houston's Fifth Ward, Harvey Aid Arrives From Unlikely Place

A line of people wait for supplies outside Restoration Square in northeast Houston.
A line of people wait for supplies outside Restoration Square in northeast Houston. Photo by Stephen Paulsen
As Houston’s Fifth Ward continues to reel from Hurricane Harvey, some unlikely volunteers are pitching in with much-needed supplies.

On Monday morning, a convoy arrived from Thornton Township, Illinois, with blankets, clothing, 16 pallets of water and other necessities. Thornton raised goods for Harvey victims throughout September, according to Ernst Lamothe Jr., communications director for the township.

“We like to help in all kinds of crises,” Lamothe said.

The donation was for Restoration Square Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral in northeast Houston. Inside the cavernous worship hall, co-pastor Tracy Glenn helped sort the necessities onto long tables. Of the 150 or so people in Restoration Square, about 10 percent had lost their homes, Glenn said. For the sixth time in less than a month, she was using her church to hand out supplies.


Glenn relied on an ad hoc network of do-gooders for donations. Troy O’Quin, a pastor who now works for Thornton Township, which is just south of Chicago, helped arrange this particular convoy. Glenn had been disappointed with the official relief effort in Fifth Ward. The FEMA response had been “pretty slow,” she said. As for Red Cross, she said with a laugh: “I don’t know what they’re doing.”

click to enlarge Julian Wilson, who came from Illinois to help, carries away a pallet jack of water. - PHOTO BY STEPHEN PAULSEN
Julian Wilson, who came from Illinois to help, carries away a pallet jack of water.
Photo by Stephen Paulsen

“I don’t want to make this a black-and-white issue,” Glenn said. “But maybe because of the low economics of this area, Red Cross never showed up.”

Glenn tried to get the word out about the drive. She took out television ads on ABC 13 and FOX 26, she said, and sent flyers to nearby Isaacs Elementary School.

The help was clearly needed. Glenn opened her church for pick-ups at 2 p.m. By 2:30, hundreds of people had filled the parking lot and lined up at the door.

Everyone who spoke to the Houston Press said they'd experienced at least a little flooding. Few if any were church members, but most lived nearby.

The crowd was tired but grateful. "It's just a blessing," Cynthia Strahan, who was waiting in line with some friends, said of the donations. "We're happy to get whatever we can get."

Jimmy Douglas waited farther up the line. "You go through so much of this, you get used to it," he said. He said the flooding in his house "wasn't a big thing," meaning just a few inches.

Douglas had tried to apply for Red Cross aid. He asked a reporter if he'd heard anything about those checks. "They sent me a text telling me I'd hear back," Douglas said. "I never did."

Inside, the line continued to snake through the church. Glenn tried to keep people from grabbing double of any supplies. “We’re going to run out,” she said, taking stock of her inventory. “I can already see it."

click to enlarge Tracy Glenn, co-pastor at Restoration Square, helps distribute supplies on Monday. - PHOTO BY STEPHEN PAULSEN
Tracy Glenn, co-pastor at Restoration Square, helps distribute supplies on Monday.
Photo by Stephen Paulsen

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Stephen Paulsen is a journalist and native Houstonian. He writes about crime, food, drugs, urban planning and extremists of all kinds. He covers local news for Houston Press and cannabis policy for Leafly.