News | Texans head to West to help small town recover

April 19, 2013

By Alison Bath | USA TODAY

Original Article

WEST, Texas -- A group of young men came to drop off diapers, prenatal vitamins, toys and other necessities. The grocer H-E-B brought its Eddie Garcia mobile kitchen. And, a church group hopes to feed as many as 1,000 twice a day.

From across the state, corporations, service groups and individuals have come to this pastoral farming community about 19 miles north of Waco to help residents recover from Wednesday's devastating explosion at West Fertilizer Co.

For those who've come to help the reason is simple yet profound.

"It's the right thing to do," said Daniel Flores, H-E-B public affairs manager. The company sent its mobile kitchen, which arrived from San Antonio Thursday night.

The grocery retailer, which doesn't have a store in West, plans to serve three meals a day to as many as 1,500 as long as needed, Flores said. Friday afternoon as a line of cars with donations lined up near the West Community Center, a H-E-B 18-wheeler dropped off supplies.

"We're part of this community," Flores said.

As search and rescue teams continue to dig through the rubble, 350-400 residents have come to the community center in need of assistance, says George Brinegar, an organizer.

Brinegar, who grew up in West and recently returned to retire after a 30-year military career, says the center – now operating as a community services center– has always been the place where residents gather in tough times or to get information.

Brinegar says residents "began arriving (to the center) as soon as people were brought out of ground zero."

Service groups, corporations, families and individuals have donated water, clothing, medical supplies and personal health items to the farming town of 2,800 people.(Photo: Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images)

Melissa Pardun, a volunteer for Acts of Mercy, said the site has four hubs -- assessment, social services, psychological and distribution -- designed to meet the varied needs of residents. Some may require basics, such as food, medicine or clothing, while others may need grief counseling or other services. Some received official notification of a loved ones fate at the center, she says.

Pardun, who toured the blast site and surrounding blocks, compared the area to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

"It reminded me of walking in Port-au-Prince with complete devastation of the buildings," Pardun said.

Just outside the center, Debbie Day of Fort Worth was helping to prepare chipotle-style burritos for a "late lunch." Day and fellow volunteers with Rapid Hope Disaster Relief will be on hand to serve 1,000 meals twice a day "until we aren't needed anymore."

"We're just here to help," Day said.

That spirit is what inspired 29-year-old James Percival and friends to gather 1,500 pounds of supplies –- diapers, clothing, toys and other items and drive nearly 100 miles from Garland.

"There is no excuse in the world for me not to be helping out," said Percival.

USA TODAY, April 19, 2013