Late Wednesday night, on April 23, a wayward tornado tore through Onalaska, Texas in Polk County, leaving some dead, many injured, and even more destruction in its wake. The aftermath left many residents displaced and in dire need of help. Lone Star Legal Aid’s community partner, Red Cross, rushed to address the immediate needs of those affected by the storm, quickly engaging hotels that were vacant as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic simultaneously affecting the entire world. For those whose homes have been impacted by the storm, Red Cross arranged housing for 75 victims at the Holiday Inn Express and another 100 in Best Western. Unlike other disasters, where shelters are set up in large venues, private hotel rooms for affected households provide the safety survivors need from the spreading virus. The Red Cross has also arranged free food distribution and other assistance. They’ve expressed that they will be available daily for Polk County throughout the long haul recovery process. Lone Star Legal Aid has set up a resource table at the Red Cross location in order to get in contact with afflicted residents.

Lone’s Star Legal Aid’s Deborah Concepcion met a young mother in the hotel lobby near the LSLA table as she anxiously waited to see if there was any food or diapers available. With the looming presence of COVID-19 encouraging residents to stock up on supplies, baby formula and food were the biggest shortages for those impacted by the storm. Although she was only able to locate some diapers for the mother, she wasn’t quite ready to give up. Concepcion attempted to contact a new community partner, a local church, Center of Hope. When she was unable to reach them by phone, she drove down to see if they had the necessary resources in person. Center of Hope provided the necessary supplies for the Red Cross and offered outside help as well. In the process of brainstorming how to best serve those affected, a community volunteer at the Center expressed her concern over the emotional trauma the tornado had caused families—especially children. The volunteer reached out to Drs. Carol Jacobs and Marlo Brawner from the Livingston/Cleveland Pediatric Center, who offered up “cases and cases” of baby food and formula, according to Concepcion. They included all kinds of formula, being mindful of children’s allergies and restrictions. This act of kindness allowed us to distribute these necessary supplies as well as disaster recovery resources to even more families. As we continue to expand our community partner base, we are grateful for their readiness to lend a hand and network with one another.

Natural disasters have often caused hard times for Texas, and the considerable anxiety brought on by the Coronavirus has only intensified the need for us to come together as a community. Now more than ever, we rely on the aid of our community partners and recognize the value of helping others.

If you or someone you know has been affected by the Onalaska and Seven Oaks Tornado, check https://www.facebook.com/PolkCountyEmergencyManagement/ or https://polkcad.org/disaster-page to see how you can get help.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at http://www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org.