Opening Hearts and Homes: Airbnb Offers Shelter in Wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma
In times of natural disaster, Airbnb urges members of its vast network of hosts to open their homes at no cost to those in need.
We talk a lot about how small businesses represent the fabric of their communities. We talk about how big a role they play in their towns, their neighborhoods and their local economies. We talk about it so much that, after a while, you can start to forget what we’re really talking about.
Until something like Hurricane Harvey happens.
During and immediately following one of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history, Houston’s small business community stepped up in some extraordinary ways to help neighbors weather and begin to recover from Harvey’s destruction. Complimented by a remarkable display of support from companies large and small from around the country, Houston’s entrepreneurs and small employers have shown incredible resolve and exceptional kindness during a troubling time for their city.
Here are just a few of the many inspiring stories of heroism, compassion and perseverance coming out of Houston’s small business community in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale has long been a recognizable figure around Houston, both because of his company’s zany furniture commercials and because of his generosity within the community. However, in Harvey’s wake, his story has become legend.
McIngvale owns several Gallery Furniture stores throughout the Houston area, and when the flooding hit, McIngvale decided to open a couple of his locations as shelters for fellow Houstonians, providing a warm and dry place to stay to more than 400 people, who slept on the hundreds of new furniture sets that occupy his showroom floors. About half of those were people his team rescued in their delivery trucks, which were able to drive through normally impassively high waters. In addition to providing space, McIngvale and team give everyone who comes in clean clothes, food and water.
“We never stepped foot in one of his stores and now I’m just like, wow, I mean, they opened up the doors,” Magdalena Marez, a woman camping out in one of the Gallery Furniture locations, told CNN. “He didn’t even second guess it. He was just like, ‘Let me help you.'”
McIngvale says he doesn’t know how long his fellow Houstonians will need to stay at the sores before they can return home, but he has been adamant that the shops will be open to them as long as they need it, even though the company will reportedly lose an estimated $30,000 by doing this.
“We’re going to keep these folks here for as long as they need to be here,” McIngvale told CBS News. “They may be here three days, they may be here seven, who knows. We’re here to help and that’s what we do, that’s who we are.”
Sugarland Pizza Hut franchisee
When Shayda Habib, who owns a Pizza Hut restaurant in nearby Sugarland, learned that there were local families trapped inside their homes without much food, she and her employees sprung into action. “When I heard there were families in need, I knew we needed to act fast,”she told local NBC affiliate KPRC. “I called my husband and asked him to gather up kayaks and meet me at the restaurant.”
Habib and her team proceeded to bake about 120 pizza, load them into delivery sleeves, and deliver them via kayak to trapped, hungry families in their community. She told the local station that she plans to continue baking and delivering until her store runs out of food. “The people in the houses didn’t expect us to come,” Habib said. “It was so nice to see their smiles after so much gloom.”
El Bolillo Bakery
When seven employees at Houston-area El Bolillo Bakery looked outside, they realized they had waited too long. Harvey had hit harder and faster than they had anticipated, and the floodwaters were too high to leave the store. They would be trapped at the bakery for two days.
So, they decided to make use of their time – by baking.
Over the course of 48 hours, the seven employees baked more than 4,400 pounds of flour into thousands of loaves of bread. “They knew it was going to be needed,” El Bolillo Owner Kirk Michaelis told USA Today. The team boxed and bagged the bread before delivering it to shelters, first responders and churches once they were able to escape from the store and hit the roads. In the days since, the bakery has continued to churn out thousands more loaves to deliver to shelters.
Nightlight Pediatric Urgent Care
Dr. Anastasia Gentles, Zawadi Bryant and Connie Cazares opened NightLight to help Houston area parents avoid the hassle of emergency rooms and bring their young children into warm, kid-friendly health care environments. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the NightLight team collaborated with Urgent Care Association of America’s Weekend of Service to provide free or price-reduced healthcare services at its open locations to local families affected by the storm.
Nightline, which recently was awarded the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Dream Big Award for Minority-Owned Business Achievement, also went above and beyond on its social media channels to keep parents informed about school closures, shelter opportunities and, in the weeks that followed, fun activities in the community to occupy out-of-school little ones.
This is all while they focus on recovering from crippling damage to several of their Houston area locations, including nearly total destruction of the company’s Humble, Texas site.
“They’re basically gutting the building,” Gentles told the Texas Medical Association, later noting that her team lost “almost everything in that practice,” including furniture, supplies and X-ray equipment. “We’re just trying to get back for the patients and for the people who work for us.”
Main Street mobilizes
Small businesses in neighboring towns and cities have come rushing to Houston’s aid, too. In Austin, 45 independent and locally owned coworking companies have formed Austin Coworking Alliance to provide free space to those without shelter after Harvey. The executive director of Bunker Labs Austin, the local outpost of a national group focused on military veteran entrepreneurship, helped organize a local rescue squad of boat owners to head to Houston.
The owners of TurnKey Vacation Rentals, which is based in Austin but has an office and manages numerous properties in the Houston area, packed up a truck with supplies and immediately headed down to Port Aransas to help repair damaged home and clean up the community. One, John Banczak, noted that “the local TurnKey office is almost a complete loss,” but that’s not their priority right now. “We have not even begun to try and salvage anything until all of the homes are checked out first.”
The Main Street support has been flowing in from well beyond Texas, too. In addition to the countless small businesses around the country that have raised money and sent supplies to help those in need in Houston, we’ve seen a former marine a diner owner from St. Paul, Minnesota drive all the way down to Houston just to cook warm meals for residents in need and first responders.
“I would drive 1,183.2 miles just to say thanks in person to any of the people I met this weekend,” Eddie Wu, the chef, wrote on Facebook during his return trip to Minnesota. “Humanity has its ups and downs, and I witnessed the best it has to offer in the last two days.”