By John Rice
Forest Park's huge heart was on display Saturday in Storey Novak's yard, where her mom and grandma couldn't hold back their tears, and dozens of neighbors paraded up with supplies for flood victims in Beaumont, Texas. Another Forest Parker, Kyle Fitzgerald, also had tears flowing, as he listened to firsthand accounts on the radio.
"Their stories totally grabbed me," Kyle said, "I'm going to Houston."
Kyle bought a used Winnebago, so that he and his partner, Justina, would have a place to sleep. His friend, Matt Joyce, also supplied a trailer for the trip.
Before heading to Texas, the pair drove to the hometown of Kyle's family, Dubuque, Iowa, to pick up supplies.
"People were lining up down the block," Kyle recalled, "They filled the trailer." They also filled the Winnebago with clothing, brand new socks and shirts and other essentials. A Dubuque hospital donated medical samples, such as insulin, to distribute in Texas.
When the Winnebago crossed into Texas, they stopped at a Walmart and purchased the store's last two pallets of water.
"We had found out Beaumont was without water, which is huge."
Their first stop was an animal shelter, where puppies rescued from the flood panted with their tongues hanging out. Then they reached a staging area, where semi trucks, loaded with water, pulled up and parked. There were 70 ambulances on standby and military helicopters flew overhead.
Among the many problems facing the flood survivors was a lack of bathrooms. Kyle recalled girls doing a little "pee dance" as they lined up to use the Winnebago's facilities. They were so hungry a box of donuts was gone in seconds. They also served them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Kyle was overwhelmed by emotion. He unhitched the trailer and donated the trailer and its contents to the victims.
The sun was going down, as they headed to Houston. Their GPS was useless, as flood waters lapped at the highways, or drowned them under eight feet of water. As they sped through rushing water, Kyle only had one thought,
"We're going to Houston! We have to do this for everyone else who wants to help but couldn't make the trip."
They gathered support from friends and family by starting a Go Fund Me site and posting videos on social media.
"It was very rewarding," Kyle said of their relief efforts in Texas, "It was uplifting but I haven't shed enough tears yet. Our timing was perfect. We arrived right when the military arrived." In Houston, they emptied the Winnebago of all its supplies.
"We met some great people. I wasn't expecting to get help from so many people."
On the drive back to Chicago, they stopped at a friend's house in Austin, where they enjoyed a much-needed meal and shower. The flood survivors still needed help but Kyle, like many, had to get back to work after Labor Day. Still, Kyle felt satisfied that they had represented Forest Park and the Midwest.
"Everyone came with us, whether they did or not."
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.