Kristen L. Byrd, Special to The Catholic Virginian

As coverage of Hurricane Harvey was consuming most TV newscasts, Jackie Moore watched and waited from Richmond for news from her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Miller, who lives in Texas. Miller’s house withstood the hurricane and she was able to update family and friends via text and social media.

Moore, whose children attend St. Mary School, Richmond, immediately thought of ways to help her sister-in-law, who is principal of Swenke Elementary School in Cypress, Texas.

“As pictures of some of the more devastated areas of Houston surfaced, it was a natural reaction to see what we in Richmond could do to support those affected,” Moore said.

Miller also thought of helping others, getting in touch with neighboring schools to assess the damage and see what could be done.

“I had parents and staff out in boats rescuing people from their homes. The community churches opened their doors and provided shelter and food. People began bringing clothing and supplies and cooking for first responders and shelters,” she said. “As a matter of fact, every day the shelters had to turn people away who wanted to volunteer.”

Together, the sisters-in-law devised a plan. Although Swenke Elementary was left relatively unscathed, plenty of schools nearby were not so fortunate. Miller said one school has 600 students who lost their homes. Another school, Moore Elementary, was so severely damaged that classes had to be moved elsewhere.

Miller and Swenke Elementary stepped in, collecting books, money and supplies to help welcome back the students. They then asked, “What next?” Which led them to St. Mary’s.

“What a great opportunity for us to stand shoulder to shoulder with those in Texas who are able to help. We are taught to love our neighbors; this connection provides a straight path to do just that for our ‘neighbors’ in Houston,” said Moore.

She contacted Cheryl Henig, principal of St. Mary’s, who quickly committed the school to the relief effort in Texas.

“At St. Mary’s, we have a Christ-centered approach to teaching, learning and leading. We encourage responsibility, accountability, respect and compassion,” Henig explained. “We are also an International Baccalaureate School, which means that as leaders, teachers and learners, we are motivated to create a better and more peaceful world.”

On Sept. 15, St. Mary’s celebrated Constitution Day, a day dedicated to thanking God for liberties and participating in activities which demonstrate patriotism and celebrate our rights and privileges as Americans.

When St. Mary’s students celebrated Constitution Day on Sept. 15, it served as an opportunity to raise money for the Texas relief effort. Children were encouraged to donate money which will be combined with other donations gathered at Mass. Principals across the district have been compiling a list of needs for each school. Money collected will help provide gift cards and other resources to directly meet those needs.

No one can know for sure how long it will take to rebuild, what the financial ramifications will be or how many students won’t be able to show up for school. Lives have been completely upended and everyone in the area is affected in some way, great or small. Of the devastation and its aftermath, Ms. Miller said, “There are still many unknowns. However, as bleak as the situation is, our community is strong and willing and able to help. That’s just how they do it in Texas.”