By Philip Timothy, Managing Editor
WESTLAKE – When asked about Hurricane Rita, the floodgates of memories burst open for 71-year-old Joanna Robinson of Westlake.
Ten years ago, she and her husband Jack, members of Bellview Baptist Church in Westlake, spent 2 ½ weeks feeding, helping and ministering to Southern Baptist disaster relief workers, members of the Coast Guard and people working at the nearby water plant.
“It sometimes seems like it was just yesterday,” recalls Robinson, who had a kidney transplant six years earlier. “It was a very taxing time but a very meaningful time because God worked through us for His glory.”
Jack Robinson, who passed away almost three years ago, was a member of the Carey Association disaster relief chainsaw crew. He had been home only two days after a strenuous stint of disaster relief work in the Covington area when he and Joanna were forced to evacuate as Rita approached southwest Louisiana.
Climbing into their 38-foot-motor home, the couple traveled 235 miles west to College Station, Texas where they rode out the storm but were back in Westlake at 6 Saturday evening to survey the damage Rita had left in her wake.
The storm had laid waste to their town.
They, like two million other people in southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas, were without electricity and were surrounded by a whole lot of destruction. Many roads were found to be impassable because of flooding, down trees and down power poles.
“We managed to make it to the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Westlake and slept there,” said Joanna. “I got up the next morning and began fixing breakfast. We had stockpiled as much food as we could carry so I did what I do best … I began to cook.
“Jack met a policeman who had stayed behind and asked if he was hungry. The poor boy said he was starving and had not eaten for almost two days,” continued Joanna. “We fed him and six or seven others who came by that Sunday. Jack had grown up in Westlake and knew everybody and everybody knew him.”
The couple realized food was going to be a necessity.
So, the couple managed to get to their house where they parked their motor home at the end of their driveway, cranked up the generator and got to work. By Sunday evening, they had set up a dining facility under their carport and Joanna began to prepare meals.
By Monday they were feeding 35 to 40 men meals three times a day.
In the meantime, Jack, who got up early to help Joanna get things started for the day, hooked up with his nephew Damon Hardesty, who had stayed through the storm with the police in the local middle school, to start the cleanup process. Owner and operator of Jack Robinson Farm Service and RV’s Plus and co-owner of Sun Contracting, he got two large tractors.
Jack, Hardesty, who was a member of First Baptist Church Westlake, other volunteers and city workers cleared roadways, homes and driveways of downed trees
“Jack and Damon helped to clear many of the roads in Westlake,” said Joanna. “Jack would get up with me at 5 a.m., work all day and come to the motor home to eat around 6, help me with the dishes and fall into the bed exhausted. Believe me; neither of us had any problems falling asleep at night.”
She said her husband’s only regret was the lack of being able to make connections with people through the relief work they were doing. Westlake was pretty much an empty shell.
“Jack told me, ‘We didn’t have that closeness – even though it was in our own backyard. The whole idea of going out is to be with people and tell them about Jesus. Most people probably never even saw the huge trees laying on their house or in their driveway.
“’It was terrible, but it was wonderful,’” Jack told Joanna.
The strain and the heat and humidity was tough on Joanna as well as she worked alone in fixing the meals using a three-burner stove and the 80 square-foot kitchen of their motor home. Many times she could not run the air conditioner or turn on the lights because the generator was already in use. It was a challenge to say the least.
“I didn’t do it, God did. Every one of those boys who came to eat offered to help me but I said, ‘no, you are needed out there clearing the roads and removing the downed trees,’” said Joanna. “He provided for my health. He gave me all the strength I needed.”
God also provided the diesel needed to keep the generator and mobile home running.
“We would alternate plugging up the refrigerator and freezer,” Joanna said. “I can’t tell you how many gallons of diesel we used to make sure it stayed running. When we ran short of fuel, more would just show up.”
God also provided for the food.
“When we would run short of food, He provided. Whether it was a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs or a bunch of shrimp from one of our friends, he always provided enough so that everyone had enough to eat. Sometimes we had some weird combinations but we ate well,” she said. “It was truly amazing to watch Him at work.”
After the evening meal, the exhausted crews would gather under the Robinson’s carport and just fellowship. Because there was little lighting the couple held prayer meeting on Wednesday under their carport and on Sunday those in town gathered at First Baptist Westlake, which was within walking distance of the Robinson’s house for services.
“All those that we had been feeding finally got power. We were one of the last homes to get electricity,” said Joanna with a chuckle. “I told them ‘I’m tired and this is your last meal.’ I made them a gumbo and there wasn’t a drop left.”
After almost three weeks and 1,530 meals, Joanna and Jack Robinson deserved the rest.
“As I watched them leave, I said a prayer thanking God for giving Jack and I this opportunity to serve Him,” she said. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing because I know this was what He wanted.”