It was Tuesday, Sept. 5, just a few days after the worst of Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas and other parts of the state.
Laura Spaulding’s six-person family was among the thousands who had been displaced due to excessive flooding. They were on their way back to Houston to recover items from their flooded home when her normally reserved 12-year-old son, Cade, asked a question.
“Mom, are we going to be okay?”
Spaulding thought about a Facebook post from two days prior, which said a family friend from Whidbey Island was organizing a relief effort for the Spauldings. She answered confidently and with warmth in her heart, despite the misfortune her family had experienced in the wake of the Category 4 hurricane.
“There’s an island out there that is supporting us,” Spaulding said. “We’re gonna be OK.”
Though 2,365 miles separates Whidbey Island from Houston, South Whidbey residents are doing what they can to help. Barry and Lilly van Gerbig, owners of Fair Trade Outfitters on Anthes Avenue in Langley, “adopted” the Spaulding family after they lost their home to flooding.
Spaulding used to babysit for Lilly van Gerbig’s older sister and helped raise her children. When the Gerbigs learned about the extent of the Spaulding’s misfortune, they decided to take action. In just a matter of days, the Gerbigs and a slew of others raised over $2,700 in donations, all of which has been mailed to the Spaulding’s temporary address. The Gerbigs also donated 10 percent of the clothing store’s sales over Labor Day Weekend to the Katy Community Fellowship Church’s fund, which goes toward efforts to salvage home materials, such as carpeting and other belongings, as well as helping needy kids find safe housing.
“Even though we have a lot of problems on the island from homelessness, crime and drugs in different places, people still have room in their heart to see beyond the island and project love and humanity,” Barry van Gerbig said. “Life doesn’t stop at the ferry.”
Laura and Benny Spaulding and their four kids have been living at a friend’s home for the past few days and just recently moved into a rental home, which is currently devoid of furniture. The family, as well as Laura Spaulding’s father-in-law, were forced to abandon their home in Houston when it filled with 7 feet of water, evacuating via an inflatable boat and motor boat with only the clothes on their backs and a few precious items they were able to carry.
Their entire neighborhood, Nottingham Forest, was also underwater.
They’ve been back periodically to assess the damage to their home. They used canoes to travel around the house. Laura Spaulding even rescued the family cat, Stella, who had been living in a shed to escape the flooding.
Laura Spaulding said her family is fortunate to have flood insurance, but she is unsure of what the total damage to her home will be when the waters finally recede. They lost many of their belongings during the flood and she does not know how much is recoverable. Spaulding was hard-pressed to find the words to explain her appreciation for the donations to her family.
“Unbelievable,” Spaulding said. “Gosh, I feel like I have so many answers to that. In Houston, everyone is needy right now.”
“When I told my family and my kids, ‘Hey, we’ve got a whole island behind us,’ there’s just something about it that gives us permission to grieve. This is bad. This is hard and it’s a big deal,” she added.
She said that South Whidbey’s donations will go toward bringing “normalcy” back into her children’s lives and ensuring the rental home they are living in is adequately furnished with beds and other necessities. School also starts on Monday, and the kids do not have backpacks, school supplies or lunch boxes.
She added her family intends to “pay it forward” by contributing what they can from the donations to their neighbors who have been similarly afflicted.
“I don’t know what’s harder: Losing everything or being the one needing things,” Spaulding said. “I would love to be out there giving back.”
Faith in humanity
The donation pool to the Spaulding family includes Mayor Tim Callison and his wife Robin Black, Sharen and Simon Heath, Fred and Sharon Lundahl from Music for the Eyes on First Street, Langley Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Rowan and Langley residents Becki and Burt Beusch (who is also a Langley City Councilman). Becki Beusch’s company Apartment Advantage Staffing Services made the biggest contribution of $2,000 from an “office pool,” Barry van Gerbig said.
Lilly van Gerbig’s said her faith in humanity was heavily tested prior to the hurricane, but that it is being restored with each donation from those on South Whidbey.
“I thought putting out a jar would get $100,” Lilly van Gerbig said. “…I’m like, ‘Jeez, people are amazing.’ We’re surrounded by amazing people and we’re in an amazing community. We really do come together. That just made me happy.”
Donations can still be made, as two money jars with descriptions about the Spaulding family and Katy Community Fellowship Fund are on the register counter of Fair Trade Outfitters, Barry van Gerbig added.
There are others on South Whidbey making a difference in the wake of the hurricane.
Daniel Goldsmith, a 71-year-old Freeland resident, is a Federal Emergency Management Agency contractor. He was recently called down to Houston to inspect homes damaged by the hurricane, which he has also done in previous disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. When it came to Hurricane Harvey, however, Goldsmith felt compelled to do more. Goldsmith and his wife, Sari Spieler, reached out to friends and others on Thursday in the hopes of filling a utility trailer with supplies and basic necessities for flood victims.
Goldsmith left Whidbey Island with about two tons of supplies on Saturday. The trailer contained clothing, bedding, inflatable mattresses, cleaning supplies, games and toys.
He was in Oklahoma on the fifth day of his six-day drive to Beaumont, Texas to drop off the supplies when he stopped to speak with a Record reporter over the phone about the contributions of his Whidbey neighbors.
“I was really surprised by how generous they were and how quickly they responded,” Goldsmith said. “It just reminds me that we need to care for each other.”
“You’re trying to give them what they really need. They’ll eventually be able to get things at the store, but right now the stores aren’t well supplied,” he added.
Tim Leonard, owner of The Machine Shop on First Street, is also doing his part to help “and convey our community spirit.” He’s holding a Hurricane Harvey relief benefit, which began on Sept. 8 and runs through Sunday. All proceeds from a pinball tournament, four-band concert, jigsaw puzzle competition and drive-in movie theater will go to GlobalGiving and RedRover, two charities which will help provide relief to survivors and animals.
“I just hope it brings us together as a community, which it will, in order to help another community,” Leonard said.
Music from bands KrashZen, Milo, Hanson Drive and Charabanc begins at 5 p.m. tonight, while the pinball tournament is from 8-10 p.m. and 2-4 p.m. on Sunday. The jigsaw competition starts at noon on Sunday.