Wednesday started as a typical day for me. Well, as typical as it can be to live through the coldest Abilene has ever been.
I was emailing back-in-forth with a source for a story that I was working on. We initially had an interview scheduled for the next day, but he told me he was unsure if he could do that interview because he was helping move people from unheated homes to warming centers. So he asked me if I would be interested in tagging along, asking him some questions and helping him out while doing his runs.
Seeing a chance to get to see others help the Abilene community, plus have the chance to help others myself, I jumped on the opportunity.
So I was picked from campus and taken to City Hall, which has served as the launching point for the rescue operations.
There, I was able to see and meet servicemen and women in the National Guard, active and reserve members of the Air Force and Abilene law enforcement members, a good majority of them who were my age.
They told me of their experiences with helping rescue people in the Abilene community, and they made me realize how dire the situation was in Abilene.
In most of their runs, they have had to pick up the elderly, the disabled and veterans from their homes. Often, these people had people in their house for days without power and water, and the rescue team came just in time to help them. But according to a couple of team members, they, unfortunately, came too late.
After talking to everyone for around an hour, it was time for them to start their shifts for the evening. Though some of them were just starting their shifts at 4 p.m., many people were still working after taking the morning shift. Many of the workers were exhausted, but they wanted to help the Abilene community more.
Everyone was assigned their partners, so it was time to officially start the evening shift. We hopped into our vehicle and started the first run. As we were heading to the location, I was warned that we might come across some situations that would be tough to stomach, so try to prepare mentally as much as I could.
I got to see firsthand how much the cold weather impacted Abilene. I saw blocks with no power and people coming up with some very creative ways to stay warm. I could see why Abilene ultimately would make it onto the BBC’s Instagram page.
The people who were picked up and moved to warming centers were going through hard times.
One older woman we picked up had been sleeping in her truck for days after not being allowed to stay in the hospital where her family member was in critical condition. Another person we picked up was escaping a toxic living situation.
Once we picked someone up, we transported them to one of the several warming centers across Abilene. Most often it was Beltway Park Church’s north campus.
When I first walked around a warming center, I was overwhelmed by how many people were staying there. Hundreds of people all from different walks of life were staying in the warming centers. All of them needed help in some way.
There to help the displaced Abilene community were dozens of volunteers, many of them students. Many of them took a risk by driving in horrible conditions, similar to the rescue crews, to spend hours at a time helping the people in the crowded warming centers.
So, after a few hours of doing runs and relocating people to the warming centers, it was getting pretty late. So the two rescue crew members and I decided it was best to drop me back off at where I was staying. After they did, they were back in the rotation to pick up more people for the remainder of the night.
This ride-along is by far one of the most impactful experiences that I have had in a long time. Before, I had only heard of the severity of the situation because of the power outages. But it wasn’t until I saw the people impacted and suffering from it that I realized how bad and dangerous the situation had become.
But whenever there are people in need, there are people who are unselfish and available to help. I got to witness those people firsthand. People who risked their safety and comfort because they saw people in need and wanted to help them, no questions asked.
Everyone who helped the Abilene community during this past week, whether by driving people to a safe location or making sure those displaced felt safe and comfortable, has my admiration and thankfulness.
Your selflessness has inspired me to be a better person and look for more ways to serve others. I hope your actions will serve to encourage and inspire others as well.