It’s been just over three months since Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston and Katy area. First came the first responders, then came the rescue missions, and now rebuilding is in full-force. While the pace has slowed down a little bit, there’s time to reflect on all the volunteers that dedicated time, space, and everything in between to help their fellow Houstonians. JBF Franchise owner Mandy Kimmell and her husband Kris Kimmell are two of those people. We interviewed Mandy to get her perspective on Hurrican Harvey and it’s effect on Houston.
Q: When you first realized how bad the hurricane and flooding in Houston was, what were your first thoughts? What was your gut feeling?
A: The week prior to the hurricane arriving in the Houston area, we knew Harvey was coming but I don’t think anyone realized the hurricane was going to sit on top of the city for several days in a row dropping a historic 50-60 inches of rain.
My husband (Kris) was working offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and I was home alone with our 1 year old son and 9-year-old daughter. As the situation got worse in Houston, all we could do is prepare to be potentially evacuated. Additional emergency responders had started arriving to Houston as the flooding had begun and anyone with boats and jet skis were out helping rescue flooded residents and animals. Almost immediately, dozens of emergency shelters and donation sites opened at schools, churches, and local businesses.
The edge of our neighborhood began to flood and my husband flew into Mobile, Alabama, rented a truck, and did his best to get to us. Flooding on the freeways made him turn back and get stuck in east Texas (Beaumont) until waters receded enough for him to reach us. We were one of the incredibly lucky ones who never had to evacuate and whose home did not ultimately flood.
After several days, the storm began to move east and we found communities all over the Houston area who were under standing water, many homes and businesses up to second floors. Katy and west Houston were hit particularly hard. National Guardsmen were even sleeping in the hallways of Katy High School when not out helping with rescue efforts.
Q: Walk me through your involvement with volunteering and helping during or after the hurricane and flooding. What steps did you initially take to get involved? Did you have specific goals in mind at the beginning of the process?
A: Our first concern was the well-being of family, friends, and neighbors. The really amazing thing is that despite any differences, in the face of tragedy and emergency, the people in Houston all come together. (This is why you will often hear or see “#HoustonStrong” or “#TexasStrong.” This sense of community is a real visceral thing.) Once my husband reached our family and made sure we were safe, he was out with others helping those affected. As waters receded it was crucial for people to get out and start removing and gutting walls and materials from flooded areas to prevent mold, disease, or further damage.
As we have small children, I had to stay with them and could not go to work sites or physically volunteer. Instead, I watched several children in our home so that those affected or helping could be working or volunteering. I offered to do laundry, cook meals, whatever I could while being tied to our home with little children. Kris worked in homes for a week helping empty and gut them out before having to return to work offshore.
We emailed and checked in on Facebook with our JBF Katy Team Members and Leaders as well as vendors, sale sponsors, and other participants. Many were displaced by the flooding while others wanted to help and volunteer but were somewhat flooded in their area like us. We continued to post links on our JBF Katy Facebook for hurricane flood relief help and gave contact information for our charity, Katy Christian Ministries, who was coordinating a food pantry (both for donations and delivery), clothing and supplies donation and pick-up, and assisting with other services and help as they could. We directed those who wanted to serve, donate, or volunteer to work with KCM.
The Just Between Friends of Katy sale is a huge event in west Houston. Shoppers can find items at bargain basement prices for their families to save money and consignors can help their family’s budgets by selling items no longer needed by their family. The community at large also benefits as our charity partner, Katy Christian Ministries, collects 100% of any admission fees for our sale as well as unsold items marked to be donated at the end of the sale. At our Spring 2017 sale, we donated $15,000 in cash and tagged items. Our sale was scheduled for September 14-16.. only about 2 weeks after the storm hit Houston.
We knew that although the west Houston community has come to rely on our sale… we could not host our event so soon after the devastation. There were literally homes still sitting in flood waters through the end of September. We weren’t sure what the best thing to do was in order to be sensitive to the community while still helping and providing a service. In the end, we had so many asking us to still bring the sale to Katy we made the decision to proceed but with updated dates.
As always 100% of our admission fees still went to Katy Christian Ministries who had a representative greeting shoppers at the door of our sale. KCM had flyers and information also to give out to anyone needing help post-hurricane Harvey.
Kris and I gifted three families personally $100 shopping gift cards to shop at our Fall sale. Just Between Friends of Richmond, Indiana sale owner Dawn Pfannenstiel contacted us and let us know she would be sending us a check for the admission fees from her latest sale to go towards three more $100 shopping gift cards to help families in need in our area. These six gift cards were given privately to families who have participated in our sale in the past (as shoppers, consignors or helpers) whom we knew had lost their homes from the hurricane flooding.
Q: Talk to me about some of the people you met and worked with during or after the hurricane and flooding in Houston. What are some of the most memorable moments you had while being surrounded by so much devastation? What inspired you?
A: I was with children mostly that last week of August as the area began to recover and flood waters began to recede. The resilience of children is pretty inspiring itself! I watched an 8-year-old daughter of one of our consignors one day as her parents went back to the home they were evacuated from to find it almost a total loss. Instead of being sad, this girl smiled and told me that she missed her house but “I am so lucky my family is ok! I can’t buy them at a store!”
An inspiring sale-related story I was privileged to be involved in came from a Valet Tagger of ours, Marti. JBF of Katy offers Valet Tagging for families who want to sell great items but don’t have the time to sort, prep, and tag them to bring to the sale. For an additional fee and percentage of the sale, they drop their items off with one of our amazing Valet Taggers who will do all of this for them.. including holding these items for them and bringing them to the sale to set out on the sale floor.
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, we had four Valet Taggers, each with multiple Valet Consignors and hundreds of items. One of these Valet Taggers is Marti, a grandmother of 11 and second-time Valet Tagger for our sale.
As flood waters reached her home and began to destroy it, Marti actually climbed up and put every valet tagged item she had up as high as she could get them! Not one of her valet consignors’ items were ruined. The idea that her home and belongings were being destroyed as she selflessly saved her consignor’s items really touched us. Marti and her husband had to be evacuated but her items safely made it to the sale. Even as she is still displaced from the storm, Marti came to help at the sale and make sure her valet consignors were taken care of. Just amazing.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced due to the hurricane and flooding, and how did it affect your franchise?
A: The biggest challenge for Kris and I at first was just figuring out how to help the community in the right way… whether that meant not having a sale or having one later at the right time. Once we made the decision to have the sale postponed on the only dates our venue could give us, the challenge then became spending the time, money, and man-power advertising all across our area again.
Q: How did you approach those challenges and find solutions for them?
A: We lost several participants by changing the dates but also probably gained a few as well. We spent a lot more money on this sale but we had the biggest and best sale we had ever had and it helped so many. It’s hard to complain about business when families we know lost everything. We feel fortunate to have the incredible support and backbone of Katy and west Houston to make JBF Katy what it is. The community inspires us. We have beyond generous people donating and helping at our sales and that makes any challenge or stress worth it.
Q: If someone asked you what your best piece of advice for taking action in your community, what would you tell them?
A: My best piece of advice for taking action in your community is to find your place to help, no matter how small it feels. I remember feeling guilty I could not be physically in the shelters helping the families, donations, animals, etc. As time has gone on, I have come to realize that by staying in our home and watching children of families needing me to, helping with small chores needed, this was my place in the community effort. Families were grateful not to have to worry about their children, laundry, or food and could focus on everything they needed to. This is true also for the Just Between Friends of Katy sale.
It may initially look like we are just a large community sale but it’s really so much more than that, especially after a natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey flooding. It filled a huge need for the community. We had people tell us they needed the sale to go on more than ever this year… replacing children’s’ clothing, shoes, gear, and toys quickly and at a huge discount over retail. Consignors told us they needed the contribution to their family budget more than ever that comes with their JBF Katy consignor check. We had teachers and church members come in to shop for families they wanted to help. We also had people in the community who wanted to come and just assist with donations for KCM.
Once again, this latest JBF of Katy sale provided another $15,000 in cash and tagged item donations this year to Katy Christian Ministries that will go to families in need in the west Houston area.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: Just Between Friends is more than just a business of amazing people and community spirit. It is a family. We support each other and help whenever we can. We were beyond touched to have the owners from JBF The Woodlands, JBF Sugar Land, JBF Houston Central, and JBF Houston South (Pearland) all come to participate, consign, and/or help at our Fall sale in support of us. We are all truly #HoustonStrong.
As of today, November 19th, there are still businesses and schools not open or fixed as a result of the flooding. Families are still displaced and several shelters are still operating. Recovering from this storm and flooding will be a long-term situation. We are committed to the Katy and West Houston community now and in the future.
Houston is a city with a strong heart. People care about each other and in times of emergency, strangers become family. Story after story of people doing brave and kind things to help each other survive and manage the storm flooding was told. Thank you for sharing ours!
We are so incredibly lucky to have franchise owners like Mandy and Kris, who take the time out for others. It was so important to us to be able to highlight their story, their experience, their generosity, and sacrifice, during a time when they could have been one of those people. Don’t forget to check out their JBF Sale Page and Facebook Page. We are grateful to be surrounded by people like the Kimmell’s and be able to share their story. Have any comments or questions? Leave your comment below!