The Salvation Army responds to serve neighbors in need following Texas tornado

May 16, 2023 | by Brad Rowland

The Salvation Army responds to serve neighbors in need following Texas tornado

By: Philip Burn

Emergency Disaster Services volunteers from The Salvation Army Port Isabel Service Unit and McAllen Corps are providing support after a tornado touched down in Laguna Heights, Texas at 4 am local time on Saturday, May 13.

Port Isabel Police Chief Robert Lopez confirmed that one person died, in addition to multiple reports of injuries and property damage after the powerful early morning storm. State Highway 100 is closed both ways between Laguna Heights and South Padre Island while work crews clear debris from the road.

Volunteers from the Port Isabel Service Unit, directed by Julie Gaucin, The Salvation Army Service Extension Regional Coordinator, responded immediately in the affected area. The McAllen Salvation Army, located a little more than an hour away, prepared 500 meals to be served and a 10-person team has deployed to serve at the temporary shelter established at the Port Isabel Events Center. The volunteers will be providing meals, hydration, and emotional and spiritual care to those impacted in the community as well as first responders.

"Once we received word about the tornado and the damage in and around our community, we were able to mobilize the volunteer team very quickly," said Gaucin. "I have been involved in many Salvation Army disaster response efforts, but this is the first time I have been called to help in my own community. My family lives only a couple of miles from where the tornado touched down and my mother's home sustained some roof damage in the storm. Our team is ready to serve the needs of our friends and neighbors and do all that we can to help."

Working with local city and emergency management, The Salvation Army will continue to assess the damage and serve as needed in and around Laguna Heights.

"There is already more than 70 people here at the shelter and The Salvation Army is providing lunch, drinks, and snacks and will be here all day to listen to and pray with those affected," said Gaucin. "I have received lots of calls from people asking how they can help. Right now, the best was to help those affected is to make a financial donation at to support our efforts, and to pray, of course."

In addition to meals, hydration, and snacks, The Salvation Army is also distributing tarps and cleanup kits to those working to salvage and clean their homes and businesses after the storm. The Salvation Army has also placed 26 families in hotel rooms. Much of the area remains without power, only adding to the challenges for the community.

"There is so much going on it's hard to keep up right now. I only live a couple of miles away and it is difficult to see this happen to my friends, family, and community," said Julie Gaucin, service extension regional coordinator for The Salvation Army. "People are coming to me and asking, ‘Julie, we need your help,' because they know me and that I'm with The Salvation Army. It's heartbreaking to hear the stories of what has happened and see the damage to homes, but The Salvation Army staff and volunteers are doing all we can to help."

The disaster team from the McAllen Corps deployed to Laguna Heights in their mobile kitchen and have served alongside local volunteers providing 2195 meals, distributed 145 tarps and 96 cleanup kits. Additional supplies are being sent to the area for distribution.

"The entire community is working together to help each other and clean up the area. We had a company come by the mobile kitchen yesterday who worked to clear all the debris from the road and around our serving area. That was a massive help," said Gaucin. "Multiple people have showed up to volunteer and the team from the McAllen Salvation Army have been such a blessing. They are trained disaster volunteers and showed up ready to work and pray! People are tired and emotional and sometimes at a loss to what to do. Our team has listened to their stories and had the incredible opportunity to pray with them."

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