When a San Diego plumber wanted to make a homecoming to Houston to help out in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, he had plenty of support from his employer and the community
Brent Watkins was born and raised in Baytown, Texas, a suburb just outside of Houston. So when Hurricane Harvey hit the area in late August, Watkins, a service tech with Anderson Plumbing, Heating & Air in San Diego, immediately felt compelled to pitch in and help his family and friends affected by the storm.
“Other than my wife and son, all my family is there and so many of my friends,” says Watkins. “A lot of them had been hit pretty hard, especially my mom’s best friends — one whose house was flooded with 8 feet of water, and one who had a tree crash through the middle of the roof. My plan was to go there, make sure everyone was safe, and help rip out drywall and remove debris from houses that had been damaged by the flooding.”
What began with Watkins simply securing a few days off work so that he could make the trip to Texas quickly ballooned: With the support of Anderson Plumbing and the San Diego community, Watkins ended up traveling to Houston with a few colleagues and donated supplies filling two trucks and a 14-foot company trailer.
“We had so much stuff donated — it was overwhelming and amazing how the whole community of San Diego and the Anderson Plumbing family got together to help out,” Watkins says. “On the news all you seem to hear about are bad things, but the help we received shows that we’re one large community ready to help each other out from the goodness of our hearts.”
‘We can do better than that’
When Watkins first approached Kelly Anderson, the firm’s service manager, to ask for a few days off to travel to Houston, the request was immediately granted. But Kelly and her mom, Mary Jean Anderson, the firm’s owner and president, knew that they could do much more.
“We said take as much time as you need, and it evolved to ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could send some supplies that people would need?’” Kelly says.
It started internally, the idea being for company employees to pitch in and send whatever supplies could fit in Watkins’ truck. But Mary Jean immediately had a bigger vision.
“Her exact words were, ‘We can do better than that!’ and then next thing we knew — after she made one post on Facebook asking for help — there were social media posts being shared all over the place from our employees and other people we didn’t even know,” Kelly says. “From there we organized drop-off days and times and got volunteers who were more than happy to come and accept donations throughout Labor Day weekend and even on Labor Day. We set up a page on our website where people could see the list of items Houston residents were asking for. We even set up a ‘Harvey Hotline’ so people could call in any time of day or night and ask questions or set up a pickup or delivery.”
The large conference room Anderson Plumbing has at its office quickly became filled with donated supplies, everything from bottled water and canned foods to personal hygiene products and over-the-counter medications. A Colgate representative saw Anderson Plumbing’s social media post and brought in hundreds of toothbrushes. Shawn Ward, who works for Maintex, donated a pallet of 7,000 showering kits that included shampoo, conditioner, and hygiene products. Kelly Miceli with Emergency Services Restoration donated a large amount of homemade care packages for children and adults. Shadow Mountain Church brought in hundreds of sleeping bags and tents.
Anderson Plumbing's conference room was full of donated supplies in only a few days.
“People were coming in car after car to drop off all kinds of donations,” Kelly says. “Employees would take their lunch hour and go in the room where the donations were being stored and help sort through and organize the items. On Wednesday evening (Sept. 6), when it came time to load the trucks, technicians came in after they got off work to lift the heavy boxes into truck. The amount of support was truly amazing.
“People feel so helpless because what can you do when everybody is thousands of miles away? They were looking for a way that they could help. People, as they brought in donations, said ‘Thank you, this is so wonderful what you’re doing.’ This effort made us realize what a tight-knit group we are at Anderson Plumbing, and even though we are a large company, everyone just pitched in. This added to our culture and what we do here. We are truly a family.”
The Trip to Texas
On Thursday, Sept. 7, Watkins and three others — George Perez, Octavio Garcia, and Vito Romani — headed off on a 32-hour journey to Texas with two trucks and a trailer loaded full of supplies. After arriving Friday night and delivering the supplies, the group returned to San Diego on Sunday.
Anderson Plumbing not only covered the costs of getting to and back from Houston, but also the salaries of the employees for the time they were away.
“It was the right thing to do,” says Kelly. “They made a generous sacrifice and you don’t want their families to suffer too. These men have families to support and they work hard. What they did is a reflection of our values.”
“A lot of companies talk about family, family, family,” says Watkins, “but for Mary Jean and Kelly, it’s definitely about family and it’s pretty awesome. I want to thank them and the whole Anderson family and people of San Diego for making this happen.”
Watkins’ mother and a few relatives knew that he was coming in with supplies. Supplies were distributed to family and friends in the Baytown area; people in nearby Pinehurst who completely flooded out; Lincoln Cedars, a low-income community; and a church, which helped disperse supplies throughout Baytown.
The scene the Anderson Plumbing crew saw when they arrived in Houston.
“My mom’s house was accessible,” Watkins says, “but both sides of the street were lined with the insides of people’s houses. The smell was horrible — mold and mildew — I’ll never forget it. But the attitude of the people was ‘We’ve been handed bad cards, but we’re all banding together to get through it.’ People are helping each other out, even total strangers. My family and friends were part of that effort be it helping to remove stuff from homes or using their boats to rescue people from their houses.
“I wish we could have done more, but we were able to do a lot in a short time and make a difference. I’d do the same thing again at the drop of a dime to help people out. What happened made me and many people in the community feel great about themselves — it showed that people have a lot of goodness in their hearts and care about helping each other out.”