“That was a powerful experience,” Melara said. “It was one thing to meet people where they’re at and assess what their needs are. It was entirely different to see them coming towards the truck, giving them food boxes, giving them personal care items.”
The last woman they served left a lasting impression on Melara. “You could just tell it pained her to have to get this kind of assistance,” he remembered. One of the speakers at the conference had offered a quote he attributed to St. Vincent de Paul, Melara said: Serve long enough until the poor forgive you. “There was something about that exchange with her that made me think about that line… She’s just in this really horrid situation, and we happen to be in this place to assist her. I almost felt like I wanted to ask for forgiveness — that we’re okay and she’s not,” he said.
“One of the houses I walked a box to, I was apologizing, saying, ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you,” Curry said. “They just built this new house six months before and didn’t have insurance… All I could think to do was apologize.”
A school bus happened to arrive in the neighborhood while the volunteers were working. Seven or eight kids got off, looking like any other school kids, but walking into a neighborhood where the homes are uninhabitable, Melara and Curry recalled.
“I remember thinking, ‘I hope school is like a sanctuary for these kids,’” he said. “They looked happy. This is kind of a new normal. It’s going to take a long time to get back to where they were before the storm.” He paused. “I don’t know if they’ll ever get back to where they were before the storm.”
Sylvester Turner, mayor of Houston, spoke to those at the Gathering and shared a quote that came from his mother, Melara said. “‘God gives his best students his hardest tests.’ That seemed to kind of resonate with a lot of the work that Catholic Charities does, not only throughout the US, but certainly locally. There’s a value to being prepared and dealing with the hard test.
“We saw people in Houston encountering miserable situations and somehow still resilient, moving forward with their lives, friendly, engaged,” Melara said. “It’s just really humbling to witness that and play a very, very small part in trying to assist them.”
Contributions toward ongoing relief and recovery efforts in Texas can be made to Catholic Charities USA at catholiccharitiesusa.org.