Hope Martinez, 14, was having dinner with her father in the living room of their Columbia home when coverage of the devastation in Houston from Hurricane Harvey came on the television.
“I told him I wanted to go help,” Martinez said. “He told me he was thinking about it, too.”
Over the past two weeks, Martinez and her family gathered donations for survivors from friends, neighbors, and even strangers on Facebook.
They left Columbia about 9 p.m. Monday headed for an American Red Cross shelter in League City off the Gulf Coast of eastern Texas, one of the area’s hit hardest by the Category 4 hurricane in late August.
“I’ve been trying to mentally prepare because I know there will be some bad stuff to see,” Martinez said while standing in her driveway next to a pile of donations Monday afternoon.
Martinez, a freshman at Sonora High School, said she worked with her teachers and principal on an independent-study plan to get her homework in advance and still get credit for the week.
The drive to League City from Columbia will take 30-plus hours, but Martinez said the mission is worth it.
“We just want to help because a lot of people lost their homes and everything they had,” Martinez said.
Martinez’s sister, Destiney, 10, is also joining her and their father, Oscar, on the journey to Texas.
They completely filled their Ford F-150’s pickup bed and an additional trailer full of the donations they had collected, which include clothing and shoes for people of all ages, canned food, hygiene products and baby supplies.
The family’s neighbor, Janelle Hall, ran across the street Monday afternoon to drop off some baby cereal at the last minute. She had also previously donated baby clothes, food, juices and blankets.
“It’s the neighborly and American thing to do,” said Hall, who previously lived in San Antonio and has experienced catastrophic flooding. “I have two babies and it’s sad for me to think of anyone’s baby going without necessities.”
So far, Texas officials have attributed at least 70 deaths to the hurricane. The estimated damage is at least $70 billion, making it the third-costliest Atlantic tropical cyclone in United State history.
Recovery efforts will take years, according to experts.
Debbie Calcote, supervisor of the American Red Cross Sierra-Delta chapter, said two volunteers from Tuolumne County and two from Calaveras County are scheduled to be deployed later this week.
Calcote said two will be going to aid Harvey relief efforts, while the other two will be going to Florida to help people affected by Hurricane Irma that walloped the state over the past weekend.
Martinez said they wanted to go to Florida after helping in Houston, but it would require her to miss too much school.
Hope Martinez’s mother, Marci Sullivan, said she’s concerned about her daughter’s safety but knows she will be safe with her dad. Sullivan said she believes it will ultimately be a good life experience.
“She’s got a big heart, and I know she wants to help,” Sullivan said of her daughter. “It scares me about what she’s going to see and be involved in doing, but not a lot of kids get to do that.”
Oscar Martinez, who owns OC Services Oscar Martinez Bail Bonds in Sonora, said he contacted the American Red Cross about a week ago to find out where he and his daughters would be needed the most.
He’s proud of his daughters for wanting to help without getting anything in return.
“That’s a parent’s dream, to know that his kids aren’t selfish and they want to help other people and aren’t just out for themselves,” Oscar Martinez said on Tuesday while passing through Phoenix. “There’s no better feeling in the world than to know you’ve raised good kids.”
The family plans to drop off the donated supplies once they reach League City, then backtrack a few hours to pick up about 200 cases of water for the shelter. Whether they head back home on Friday or Saturday will depend on what they can or can’t do to help.
As of about noon Tuesday, they still had 1,196 miles to go until they reach League City.
“It’s a lot to ask of the kids, but they’re doing it voluntarily and they’re happy to be here,” Oscar Martinez said. “It’s an experience we can share, and an experience that we’ll remember forever.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.