Texas Snowstorm hero blog

In February, a typical Texas day feels more like spring inviting green grass and flowers to sprout and promising warmer weather ahead. This year was different. No one imagined what lay ahead with the snow storm’s arrival and the impact on the great state of Texas. 

Through it all, our associates and teams prevailed, going to extraordinary measures to care for residents. Here are their stories of bravery and heroism to be the best part of someone’s day.

Keeping Our Residents Safe as the Texas Electrical Grid Failed

By: Achim Barrow, Senior Director of Dining Services at Army Retirement Community

We serve more than 700 amazing residents, with about 100 in the health center. The last time it snowed here was about 10 years ago, about 1 inch. Then, it was gone in a blink of an eye.

It started snowing on Sunday, February 14. By the time I arrived on Monday at 5:00 am, the first red flag alert notified us that the water and power were out. Only the health center had some electricity, which worked the lights, but not the heat.

With COVID-19 precautions, we were already making meals for delivery. But with so many people on our team handling new kinds of challenges at home and distancing requirements at work, the added snow and low temperatures, for many, became a nightmare.

Delivering meals to hundreds of residences

First, we prepared coffee for about 400 people, who were already getting cold. We used plate burners with propane tanks and melted ice to boil water for masterfully engineered “pour over” coffee pots. Then we took stock of our resources. Beyond myself and my assistant, we had three cooks and two servers instead of our typical 16 to 20.

Since people have no need for snow chains on their tires, associates who could get to work risked icy streets and impassable roads. Fortunately, we had a supply of sandwiches and salads to queue up for delivery. Along with a few volunteers, we worked together to bag meals and deliver them.

Monday and Tuesday went pretty smoothly. But as the blackout continued into Wednesday and Thursday and the weather refused to improve, keeping our residents hydrated and warm and our facilities sanitary became our most serious concerns.

Getting more water and food became our priority. So we got creative. First, we contacted the Red Cross and FEMA, who promised water and blankets soon. I connected with a friend at Anheuser-Busch, who donated 500 cases! That was enough to drop a case at each residence on campus.

When I heard a resident didn’t have water to flush his toilet, I remembered that we had a pool full of water, which the maintenance crew then distributed to each residence in buckets. When we needed more water to wash dishes and sanitize the kitchen, we handed our chef 15 five-gallon water bottles to fill from his tap at his home. Once he got them back to the community, we shlepped them into the kitchen, poured them into pots, and boiled them in small batches on click burners – completing that cycle three times a day. (I’ve been wondering about his water bill!)  It seemed like whatever we needed, we were able to secure, just in time. With the help of our colleagues and connections, we got the trucks, the vans, the water, and the supplies that we needed to keep our residents safe.

Boiling water to wash the dishes

In 15 years with Compass, I’ve never seen a situation where people were so determined to overcome something so dire. Everyone did everything they could to keep our residents safe, warm, and calm. People worked all hours, some sleeping on campus while their own families were facing the same freeze. Their pipes were bursting. Their families and pets were in the dark. But together, we put our residents first. Our residents have served our nation and deserved the same service they’ve given our country.   

Things are starting to get back to normal. The lights are on, our heaters work, and the 3,000-gallon tank of emergency water is no longer frozen.  Every day, I feel excited and privileged to work in senior living at the Army Resident Community.

One Literal Step At a Time

By: Yolanda King, Hospitality Manager at Blue Skies of Texas

Our community has cottages and mid-and high-rise apartment buildings, and when the storm locked everything down, we needed to deliver meals to every residence. With a good cache of supplies and some fast workarounds, we felt like we were getting the job done pretty well – until the elevators stopped working in the high rise for the better part of a day.  That meant we needed to carry food and water up as many as 15 flights of stairs to reach those stuck in their apartments throughout the building. 

Some residents were stuck on the ground floor.  One resident, Carl Wall, who is 90, really wanted to get home, so we went to his 13th-floor apartment. Floor by floor, we made steady progress, taking just a few breaks to rest. I carried his walker so he could take a seat on our rest breaks.  By the time we made up 104 steps, he felt like Superman!

That wasn’t my only trip up those stairs that day. In fact, I made many!  A few days later, I could barely walk, so I slathered on some Icy Hot and brought some to Mr. Wall, who said he actually felt great! After our adventure, I felt great too – and carry a new-found appreciation for working elevators.

We’re Taking Care of Caregivers

By: Joshua Fels, General Manager at CC Young

As the storm approached, we saw we needed to have all hands on deck. So we planned to do everything possible to take care of the community’s associates. Fortunately, CC Young has a brand new health center, which isn’t yet full. We were able to commandeer an entire floor to convert for staff who were willing to bunk on-site. We bought air mattresses and bedding – everything they’d need to be comfortable if they were able to stay.

Our associates did an amazing job juggling, and we supported them wherever we could. If they couldn’t drive, we picked them up in our bus.

People who had no water could get a warm shower in the rehab gym and do their laundry. One mother was willing to work but needed childcare.  With no other alternative, she brought her child in with her to stay overnight.

We accommodated over 60 dedicated associates. Everyone had their own worries about issues at home but focused on our residents. I’m so grateful that we had the resources to care for them as they cared for our residents.

We’re Dancing in the Dark

By: Ian Johnstone, Regional Director of Operations in Texas

Let’s start with a few stats.  I oversee 12 communities in Texas. Eight were without power for nearly a week. Four were without water, and by day two, all twelve were under “boil water” orders.

In a simple twist of fate, the February storm impacted every community on my watch because they all share one independent power grid.  That’s why for Texas, it was a disaster like none other. The best thing I could do for our communities was to be the communications hub. On the phone each day to our dining directors, our clients, and our sister sectors, I’d find the gaps and fill the needs. It was quite a dance to locate the resources in one place that were needed by another, but day by day, we worked our way through it.  We shifted water, paper goods, food, and chemicals.

We did what we were trained to do – and I’m happy to say the disaster training paid off! With the help of dedicated associates, our network partners, and the suppliers who eventually made it through, we were able to feed our residents and a huge number of community team members breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the longest week of our lives.

Thank you to these brave heroes and many others that put our residents first during this catastrophic event.