By Mallory Scheve
Gustavo Rivera could be considered the “mayor” of River Oaks. When we met Gustavo, or Gus, as he prefers to be called, he was leading Red Cross workers through River Oaks, a small tight-knit community in Conroe, Texas. His family and neighbors are just now returning to their homes and starting their long road to recovery. Despite the devastation,
residents are trying to remain positive and leaning on one another for support.
“We are dealing with it as it comes,” says Gus Rivera. “These are difficult times, but you have to stay strong, but we are stronger when the Red Cross comes. It gives us hope.”
Gus had set his lawn up as a makeshift site for his neighbors to pick up cleaning supplies as they streamed into the street to collect items the Red Cross was providing, including clean-up kits, rakes, shovels, and bottled water. Gus’ home had been one of the hardest hit on the street.
Four feet of water had rushed into his trailer, and all of his belongings were in piles on the street. Despite this, Gus was cheerful and willing to act as a translator for Red Cross workers, as River Oaks is a primarily Spanish-speaking community.
Gus introduced us to the Alcocen family, who had three generations living together in a modest trailer that they had lovingly renovated over the course of several years. Martha Alcocen graciously offered her shaded front porch to Red Cross caseworkers and the Disaster Mental Health Team who were working with families to help provide assistance
for their immediate needs as well as emotional support.
Martha is the matriarch of the family, and she told us how she had packed up her daughter and grandchildren and had fled the area as flood waters began to rise. Her husband stayed behind to watch their home. At one point, flood waters were so high that he was chest-deep in water in their yard.
Maria Maldonado lives across the street from Gus. She and her young children narrowly escaped the rapidly rising waters in a neighbor’s truck. Her children are scared, and don’t like living in strange places that don’t feel like home.
Maria explains that the hardest thing for her was coming home and seeing all the destruction. “We need everything,” said Maria. “When I see my neighbors and they come and they’re crying, I’m crying. It was many years of hard work. This was our dream. This was my kids’ house.”
Despite the devastation, residents are trying to remain positive and leaning on one another for support. “We are dealing with it as it comes,” says Gus Rivera. “These are difficult times, but you have to stay strong, but we are stronger when the Red Cross comes. It gives us hope.”
All Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. People can help families like those affected in River Oaks by donating to Red Cross Texas Floods and Tornadoes by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.