MAHOPAC, N.Y.— As Hurricane Harvey hammered Houston and its surrounding towns with torrential rain and devastating winds last week, Mahopac resident Paige Levine-Brennan and her 15-year-old son, Max, watched the TV reports with great dismay.
Levine-Brennan is originally from Houston—she moved to Mahopac 18 years ago—and her mother and sister still live in Cypress, Texas, a suburb 30 minutes outside of the city.
“Max was in contact with his grandmother and his aunt and cousins getting updates,” said Levine-Brennan, artistic director for Putnam Dance Center in Mahopac. “He was finding out where they were, where they were staying. The tornadoes in their area was a lot worse than the flooding—ripping roofs off, knocking trees down. They are in their homes and they are safe. They got a little lucky with the flooding; the drainage system in their neighborhood was recently updated. It’s kind of a miracle. And they have power.”
But Levine-Brennan says her son was touched by the events unfolding in Houston and was frustrated that there was nothing he could do.
“He was nervous and upset and was thinking how he could help,” his mom said. “I have a friend who is a volunteer at a shelter and she told me about stuff that they needed.”
So, Levine-Brennan turned to Max and told him this was how he could help. She set aside space at the Dance Center and put postings on social media about what sort of supplies were needed and then left it up to Max and his friend, Gia Minisolo, a senior at Somers High School, to coordinate it.
Max, who attends Trinity-Pawling Prep School, where he’ll be a sophomore this fall, said his grandmother with living with his aunt and cousin when the storm came.
“The water was getting high and they had to go to the second floor,” he said. “I wanted to help out any way I could. It was frustrating, difficult and upsetting. I wanted to try to get all that stuff and bring it to them and do whatever we could.”
Levine-Brennan’s friend in Houston—the volunteer at the shelter—said they needed diapers, formula, blankets, clothes for both kids and adults, bottled water and food items. The drive started Wednesday morning at 8 and a steady stream of donors pulled into the parking lot of the Dance Center all day dropping off bags and boxes for Max and Gia to stack and inventory.
“I was impressed,” Max said. “I thought some people would come but it was a lot more than I expected. [My mom] just put it online the night before, so people didn’t have a lot of time to get ready. We had people from Mahopac, Carmel, Brewster, Somers…”
“It was very hectic at times, we were piling up the entire truck with bags and bags of donation,” said Gina, 16. “People from all over heard about it. We were there a long time. I haven’t been involved in a project like that before. It was very liberating. It’s nice knowing that little things like this will help them out.”
So many items poured in, in fact, that the pick-up truck they were using was soon overloaded. They needed something bigger. Levine-Brennan went to the Dance Center’s neighbor, Hudson Valley Auto Traders, a used-car dealership, so see if it had a bigger vehicle they’d be willing to rent to her.
“They said, no, this is for a good cause and they donated a van for us to use for the day,” she said.
But where they were going to truck all the donations became the question. They had no idea how to get the stuff from New York to Houston.
“We called FEMA and the Red Cross and no one was doing anything locally,” Levine-Brennan said. “Eventually, the only place we could find was the Salvation Army up in Newburgh. It was really difficult finding somebody. It surprised me.”
So, on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 31) Levine-Brennan and the two kids headed to Newburgh with their van loaded to the ceiling with donations.
Gina said she was happy not to just help the victims of Harvey, but to help the Levine-Brennan family as well.
“I saw how it was affecting them,” she said. “[Levine-Brennan] was very upset and I really wanted to help out. I thought this would be the perfect thing to do for them.”
Max said he knows their donations are just a drop in the bucket, but figured every little bit helps.
“I feel like there is more stuff for them now,” he said. “They still have all that flooding but now there are clothes and toiletries and that the stuff that can help them in some way. I feel better now that I’ve helped out.”
He said a second drive might be forthcoming.
“We might do another one of these in a couple of days,” he said. “That way, we can let people know in advance. This one happened quick and we were there only five hours and people couldn’t really have time to get their stuff together.”
Levine-Brennan said she was very proud of the two kids,
“They were amazing,” she said. “They were there all day long meeting people in their cars. I was impressed.
“Every time I watched the news it broke my heart but what could I do living here in New York?” she continued. “I couldn’t hop a Jet Ski and save everybody. So, this was good.”
“It’s such a tragic mess [in Houston],” Gina added. “But doing this, it is an awesome feeling.”
Levine-Brennan said that Salvation Army volunteers told them that the clothes and other items were appreciated, monetary donations work better because of the logistical challenges the face in getting the items to Texas. However, there are still plenty of opportunities to donate clothing and other items through legitimate sources. Sen. Terrence Murphy is hosting a “Fill a Truck for Texas” drive to get back-to-school items to the kids in the flood-affected areas. Back-to-school supplies, baby supplies and hygiene products toiletries can be dropped off at local town halls until the end of the day on Friday (Sept. 8).