The Red Cross’ Orange County chapter has been through a lot since Hurricane Ike hit, but nothing can compare to the first few days. Some 300 volunteers got food and shelter to storm victims, and in some cases worked with first responders on rescues. 

Executive Director Janie Johnson says that no matter how an organization can plan, a lot of early storm response comes down to “play it by ear.”

Still, the figures are impressive. The Orange chapter just reached its 100,000 mark for bulk distribution items (cleaning kits and cleaning supplies), more than 140,000 hot meals served and 33,000 in MREs.

“I’m so very proud of the efforts of our volunteers,” Johnson says.
The office staff played board games while they waited for the storm. The power went out at the Red Cross building about 3:30 a.m., and after daybreak area firefighters showed up to put out a fire. But there wasn’t one.

“Someone in town saw the smoke from our generator and called the fire department,” Johnson says. 

Tents went up at the Red Cross grounds. Some called it “Tent City,” where volunteers from Southeast Texas worked with those from Iowa, California, New York and even Kenya, Africa. North Orange Baptist Church served as one temporary shelter, and the Southern Baptist Men’s group cooked and ran the kitchens.

“One man from Arizona had been a judge on his state’s supreme court, and I didn’t even find out until he was about to leave,” Johnson says. “He and his wife had been here for Gustav, and after Ike they came right back to help us.”

Johnson and others used the county’s Emergency Operations Shelter, the old phone company building, to book victims into out-of-town shelters. On one occasion she found herself riding in a boat down Green Avenue, a new experience for sure. 

On Sept. 19, she finally had a chance to send some e-mail and wrote her mother: “I went to Bridge City today and really took some time to look around. I cried. I saw homes with the brick washed away. A couple of homes had so much water come in, the walls blew out.”

On Oct. 4, the Red Cross received $1,500 from a choir benefit sponsored by St. Mary, Starlight, Mount Olive, Salem, Mount Pilgrim, Mount Calvary and other churches. Johnson wrote her mother, JoLynn Peveto, “As the pastor made note, many of the people there last night had lost everything, yet they gave so much.”

The best donations the chapter can receive now are financial contributions, she says. “We’re mainly just feeding people right now and we have to buy the food in bulk.”

To contribute, call 883-2322, visit the office at 3901 Interstate 10 E. in Orange or go to and specify the Orange County chapter.

“Every storm is different,” she says. “It has its own personality. During Rita, you could get your roof patched up and then wait for it to be fixed. But with Ike, your home was gone and you couldn’t go back to it. I’m from here and everything’s different when the victims are people you know.”