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Donors Give $200,000 to TEC's Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund

November 1, 2017

Jimmie Smith's home in Bay City is more special than most. Smith's father built the house on land handed down by his grandfather. Smith grew up in the home and in 1996, he inherited it from his father and has lived there ever since.

"It means a whole lot," he said.

But on Aug. 25, when Hurricane Harvey swept through with pounding winds and rain, the home was ravaged. Its roof caved in. Officials ruled it uninhabitable. "Just everything was just destroyed," said Smith, a lineman at Jackson EC.

Still, Smith never missed a day of work, instead laboring every day to get the lights back on for the JEC members who lost electricity in the powerful storm. "I've been working all my life, and the only thing that really kept me going was just coming to work," he said.

Smith's story is one that played out across Co-op Country after the storm: Co-op employees took care of the members before they took care of themselves. Now, with the lights back on and some order restored, co-op workers along the coastal bend and in East Texas are getting help to put their own lives back together.

TEC is helping. The association has collected almost $200,000 in its Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund that co-ops can use to help employees rebuild.

"People all over the country were reaching out to the association, asking how they could help the co-op family in Texas," said Martin Bevins, TEC vice president of Communications & Member Services. "To facilitate that, TEC created the fund to connect those who wanted to help with those in need. The cooperative spirit was in full force."

Seven co-ops have accepted money from the relief fund out of the 15 that were directly affected by Hurricane Harvey. In East Texas, floodwaters ravaged communities.

"There were houses that just completely washed away along the Trinity River," said Keith Stapleton, chief communications officer for Sam Houston EC. "Homes fell into the river. There was just nothing there."

Spurred by such stories, Mecklenburg EC, based in Chase City, Virginia, rallied its community in support of Texas co-ops. Employees and local schools and community groups came together to fill a semitrailer with cleaning and restoration supplies, water and handwritten messages of support. After a 1,300-mile trip, it arrived at Victoria EC on Sept. 29, and VEC distributed supplies to members.

"We are truly grateful for the kindness and generosity that MEC and several others have shown us and will work with neighboring communities to ensure these items are put to good use," said Blaine Warzecha, VEC general manager.

Mike Williams, TEC president and CEO, said the ongoing support is nothing new among co-ops. "It made all of us proud to see how the cooperative family responds to tragedy," he said. "It's fundamental to who we are as a community."