Early in the morning of Aug. 20, a light turned on in one of the single-room shelters at In The Streets-Hands Up High Ministry, a multi-service ministry based in a three-acre compound near Bastrop, Texas. ITS-HUH serves as a soup kitchen, a church and a family homeless shelter housing more than 30 people.
It was resident Julie White, who rolled out of bed in one of the single-room shelters she shares with her daughter. “I went to get ready for church, like at two o'clock. I turned on the faucet and … nothing. It was dry.
“I remember thinking, ‘How am I going to take a shower, brush my teeth, wash my face, get ready for church?’” she recalled. “And it was just dry.”
Due to the harsh summer drought and the drilling of two neighboring wells, the water table for the ministry’s on-site well had dipped below its depth. They were out of water.
“I at the time I didn't panic,” she said. “I thought ... it would get back and running, you know. And then when I found out that it was more than just (a matter of it) getting fixed, it was sad. I really knew that it was a big problem.”
The next day, ministry Founder and Pastor Roland Nava called together the residents with what White called “devastating” news. County officials had made the decision that without water, the ministry would not be able to operate either its soup kitchen or its residential services for at least two weeks until the well could be drilled another 140-180 feet deeper.
“Pastor Roland said, ‘If we don't have water, no one can stay here, and there can be no cooking,’” she said. “I worked in the soup kitchen, and we were not going to be able to be open. That's 175 meals we serve a day that people weren't going to get.”
White said when residents heard the news, “We cried. We were devastated. We cried so bad, and then we prayed even harder.”
She said the group’s prayers were answered after Nava called Bob Andrews, director of TBM’s Austin Baptist Association Disaster Relief Team, for help.
“I talked to him and when I told him the story he goes, ‘Okay, let's do something.’ Next thing I know, (ABA Disaster Relief co-director) Richard Bennett comes out and surveys everything, and he comes back the next day with (a water tank) and the laundry and shower unit. Next thing you know, the people are taking showers and washing clothes, man.”
To re-start the soup kitchen, the tank water also would need purification. TBM Water Impact leaders, Mitch Chapman and Phil Elery, traveled down to hook up a TBM water purification station.
“This is part of our ministry,” Bennett responded, noting that even small-scale disasters have a wide-ranging impact. ”If there's a need, we're going to serve it whether it's a flood or someone loses their well and they need some place to take showers and do laundry.”
Nava said the TBM response “means a whole lot because, if we couldn't get that going, I would have to tell the people who were homeless already that we will not be able to house them. We sat here and we cried because it hurt my heart to have to tell these people that they had to leave when they had nowhere to go.”
Bennett, who is a member of Austin Baptist Church and a part of the association disaster relief group’s Incident Management Team, is a veteran TBM responder who has been deployed to hurricane responses in North Carolina, Louisiana and Houston. He said he expected the shower/laundry unity and TBM volunteers from the Austin area to provide relief for at least two weeks.
While Bennett folded towels in the laundry area, White entered to do a load of clothing and gave him a big hug.
“Y'all (TBM volunteers) have been our angels,” she told him. “I truly believe that. I didn't even know that you guys existed, and to know now that you guys exist and the tireless, thankless job you do? I know that God gives you blessings and I'm very grateful for that, but you were heaven-sent, God sent for y'all to come.”
Richard Bennett, a member of the TBM/Austin Baptist Association Disaster Relief team, helps Julie White, a resident of In the Streets-Hands Up High Ministries prepare a washing machine for her laundry. The recent Texas drought dried up the ministry's only water source, a well, leaving the ministry and 35 residents of its housing ministry without water for food, toilets and laundry. White called TBM responders, who provided a shower and laundry unit and water purification, "our angels."