Texas Gulf Coast American Red Cross

Pup, pastor pivotal in shelter’s success

By Ken Rosenauer, American Red Cross

Diana lost everything in Hurricane Harvey – everything but her Yorkshire terrier, Chester.

A Yorkshire terrier named Chester is one of the only pets at the shelter at Ben Garza Park in Corpus Christi. He waits patiently in his stroller for his owner. They left the shelter after the Federal Emergency Management Agency was able to arrange temporary housing for them. (Red Cross photo by Ken Rosenauer)

Chester and his 70-something-year-old owner were among the first residents when the American Red Cross opened a shelter at Ben Garza Park in Corpus Christi on Sept. 3.
Diana was an instant hit among staff and residents, with her spunky attitude in the face of disaster. It didn’t hurt her popularity that Chester was the center of attention among shelter residents, volunteers and visitors; everyone wanted to pet the dog and maybe spend a minute scratching behind his ears.At its height, the shelter housed 150 people displaced by the storm. The operation

At its height, the shelter housed 150 people displaced by the storm. The operation had its share of challenges, until David Welch arrived to take charge.

Dave Welch, supervisor of the Red Cross shelter at Ben Garza Park in Corpus Christi, prepares to hand out Client Assistance System cards to some of the shelter residents. The CAS card provides limited financial assistance to victims of disasters to cover special needs. Welch is pastor of the Sigourney (Iowa) Christian Church. (Red Cross photo by Ken Rosenauer)

Known to all as Pastor Dave, Welch had a knack for connecting with shelter residents, many of whom had been homeless even before Hurricane Harvey hit. In true Red Cross fashion, he credits his shelter team.

“This team has done the best job that I have ever seen done,” he said.

The pastor of the Sigourney, Iowa, Christian Church, has his share of experience in Red Cross shelters. He first volunteered after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was assigned as a shelter worker. Soon, the shelter manager asked him to serve as his assistant. After returning home, Welch spent the next seven years volunteering for the Iowa Red Cross. He went to Nebraska for three years, where for nine months he was employed on the Red Cross staff.

Then, it was back to Iowa, where the Sigourney Christian Church called him to be their pastor 18 months ago.

Watched the destruction from Hurricane Harvey and then Hurricane Irma unfold on TV, the pastor knew he had to respond.

“I’m going to do one of my crazy things,” he told his congregation from the pulpit one Sunday. He explained that he was answering his own call to volunteer with the Red Cross. He was nervous even bringing this up, given his relatively short time as pastor there. Yet, the congregation understood.

“We can’t stop you,” they said, and sent him off with their support and prayers.

When he signed up, the volunteer coordinator asked where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do.

“Put me where you want me,” was his answer.

Harry Hammonds and Mary Gulasey are two volunteers at the Red Cross shelter at the shelter at Ben Garza Park in Corpus Christi, Texas. Hammonds is from Enid, Oklahoma. He is semi-retired and works part-time for Mission Tortillas. Gulasey is from Corpus Christi and works for the Corpus Christi Hooks, part of the Texas League, a Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. (Red Cross photo by Ken Rosenauer)

The Red Cross needed him in Corpus Christi, at the shelter at Ben Garza Park. His firm attitude and high expectations have earned him the respect of shelter residents, volunteers and Red Cross leadership.

Pastor Dave admits he may not be the strongest with paperwork; taking care of people is his priority.

His goal is to work himself out of a job, seeing that his shelter residents have either been placed in better housing or have opted to return to the streets where they were living before the storm.

Daily, the resident count grows smaller; Red Cross caseworkers and FEMA personnel are helping them make plans.

Finally, Diana and Chester were ready to leave, heading for a temporary apartment until the intrepid senior citizen could find a more permanent home.
But first, Pastor Dave and the rest of the volunteers had a surprise: a three-wheeled bicycle, complete with a basket to carry Chester. She and her dog have been an inspiration to the shelter staff; they will be the wheels beneath her future.

The Red Cross shelter at Ben Garza Park in Northeast Corpus Christi is seeing numbers of residents drop on a daily basis. Caseworkers from the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency continue to work with shelter residents to find longer-term housing. (Red Cross photo by Ken Rosenauer)
Up to a dozen case workers from the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency work with shelter residents at the American Red Cross shelter at Ben Garza Park in Corpus Christi. (Red Cross photo by Ken Rosenauer)
Two portable shower units sit outside the American Red Cross shelter at Ben Garza Park in Corpus Christi. Just over 40 people are living in the shelter, with those numbers dropping each day as case workers are able to find more appropriate housing for them. (Red Cross photo by Ken Rosenauer)