Local church to hand-deliver goods, money to Houston suburb

About thirty miles from Houston, Texas, located directly next to the Brazos River, the small city of Rosenberg lies besieged by more than five feet of water after the deluge of Hurricane Harvey.

Earlier this week, Friar Lee Flores, the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Rosenberg, called on those outside of the storm radius to help his parishioners — a vast majority of which had lost everything to the once-in-a-century storm.

And from more than 1,700 miles away, Monsignor Walter Orlowski of St. Matthew Church answered Flores’s call to action.

As residents and organizations around Connecticut scrambled to assemble care packages and cash donations to mail to the regions of Texas struck hardest by Harvey, Orlowski was devising a way to make a difference firsthand.

“Rather than asking someone else to go down there and do my bidding while I sit up here safe and dry in my high chair, I just believe that I need to be the one out there doing this,” Orlowski said. “I just think it’s important for church leaders to be down there on the front lines, to let people know that we are here for them.”

On Tuesday, Orlowski put a simple plea out on Facebook: help me to fill trucks with much-needed supplies for those suffering and I will hand deliver it there myself.

Unlike wealthier Houston suburbs like Caty and Richmond, Rosenburg’s population has a median income average well below the poverty line. With more than 16 percent of its population living in poverty already and more residents forced from their homes by the flood, Rosenberg residents were increasingly at risk of going unaided.

That’s why Orlowski asked the community to donate money as well as non-perishable items, bottled water, grooming and self-cleaning materials, Clorox, paper towels, toilet paper, LED flashlights and other first aid items. And, so far, the community response has exceeded his expectations, Orlowski said.

Local truck rental company Penske donated a large box truck to the church for the transportation of the goods down to Texas, and numerous other residents have already provided gas money for the trip.

In addition to nearly filling a single large Orlowski said that the church has already raised more than $6,000 — money that he said will be distributed amongst parishioner families evenly, so that they can put it toward whatever they see fit.

“There are people coming from all walks of life to come do what they can do. From little kids with toothpaste and toothbrushes that they just bought at the store to adults and senior citizens. It’s truly been awe inspiring.”

Norwalk resident Joe Squeo and his family members were amongst the first to respond to Orlowski’s request. After donating as many boxes of bleach as the local branch of Costco had to offer, the Squeos went a step further and donated their time as well.

Squeo, whose 90-year-old parents were located right in the middle of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, had seen firsthand what a major hurricane could do to a city and its people. With another storm of that magnitude displacing thousands, Squeo said he couldn’t just sit by idly.

“Monsignor Walter basically opened the door for everybody to have an opportunity to help by taking the lead and telling us what was needed. Now, it gives everyone who saw it as too much of a challenge the chance the opportunity to contribute,” said Squeo.

Not only did Squeo dedicate three days to collecting donations and packing them into the truck, but his son-in-law and former Houston resident, Mark Betz, will be driving a second truck of donated goods down to Houston on the tails of Orlowski.

After the first two trucks ship out to Rosenberg, the church will consider sending a third truck down depending on how many materials the church can collect.

But, Orlowski hopes the efforts won’t stop with this first wave of donations.

Orlowski, who was put in charge of 10 parishes throughout New Canaan, Darien and Norwalk in April, said he hopes to recruit carpenters in his district who would volunteer to travel to Rosenberg once water levels drop in the hopes of helping residents rebuild their homes.

“You’ve got people down there in all types of economic situations, so obviously for some it’s harder than for others. That’s why what Monsignor Walter is doing is so important,” said Betz, whose sister and father still live in the Houston area.