AUSTIN (KXAN) - In a parking lot outside the Diocese of Austin Pastoral Center on U.S. 290 in East Austin Tuesday morning, carloads of donated clothing, toys, and toiletries were unloaded and packed into other vehicles.
From there, the stuff was transferred to the Catholic Charities of Central Texas offices at East 6th and Chicon, where volunteers dove into an enormous sorting job.
By mid-afternoon, the gifts joined tons of additional donations available to fire victims at the shelter set up at Ascension Catholic Church in Bastrop .
"We don't realize many times that when people flee their homes, they leave without some of their essentials: their medications, toothbrushes, razors. They basically, in some cases, run out the door," said Catholic Charities of Central Texas CEO Melinda Rodriguez. "And so those basic needs are not being met and so that's a very primary level where we start to get involved."
The help is no way intended just for Roman Catholics.
"The aid is intended for anyone that has a need," said Rodriquez. "Part of our mission is to serve all people. We do what we do in terms of our call to help our brothers and sisters in need out of our belief and our faith system. We are called to care for one another, regardless of what their faith, belief or creed may be. So we're not called to just help Catholics; we're called to help the community at large."
Members of that community at large came and went from the busy shelter as a huge column of smoke soared skyward just miles from town.
One of them was Mike Gerold, who evacuated his home with his wife as the largest of the central Texas fires bore down on his neighborhood. He has not been allowed to check on the house and the rumors he hears are not comforting.
"Well, just that a lot of, most of it's been burned down to the ground," Gerold said.
The couple fled from their house so quickly, they had time to collect just a few pictures from the walls and the clothes they were wearing. They are staying with family members in Bastrop, but they came to the shelter for some needed clothing, supplies and comfort.
"One can only imagine that leaving without what is comforting to you in your own home can cause a great deal of anxiety," said Rodriguez. "And so our immediate need is to provide a restful place where people can kind of gather and collect themselves, deal with the shock of what has happened to them."
Gerold could testify to that. "It's a great help to be with people---I'm sorry---when, you know, when you're waiting," he said, said, his voice breaking.
Nearby, Anna Gamez and her one year-old baby Nezmarie enjoyed a donated meal.
"They've given me pampers for her, clothes for her and for myself, you know. It's a big blessing," she said. "It's much appreciated."
Catholic Charities of Central Texas will continue to accept donations for the foreseeable future at its East Austin headquarters.
"We're expecting a large shipment of medical supplies; a group of nurses from Victoria, Texas, have gotten together and they're bringing those supplies to us by the end of the week," said Rodriguez.
Even when that immediate kind of need is satisfied, the work will go on.
"A lot of times when people are displaced from their homes, they still have to pay their ongoing house expenses and so we're able to provide assistance with that," Rodriguez said. "In many cases, we also help families restore their homes, people who don't have insurance. "We just finished our tropical storm Hermine work this spring and that happened last fall."
Meanwhile, other organizations are also working to assist fire victims:
- The American Red Cross of Central Texas and the Austin Disaster Relief Network are taking monetary donations.
- Austin Christian Fellowship is staging for a volunteer cleanup, collecting trash bags, gloves, water, snacks and toiletries.
- The online vacation rental agency, VacationCake.com , is offering free space to families who lost homes.
- HomeAway, an Austin-based company , has people who have volunteered to rent their Austin-area homes at reduced costs or for free.
- The Burnet County Sheriff's Office is taking donations of money and basic needs goods
- The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection on Justin Lane in Austin is also willing to take donations of food and goods.
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