Auburn and Opelika residents send water, coffee, volunteers to Houston


In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s devastating path, Auburn and Opelika churches, businesses and individuals are coming together to help the Houston victims by collecting supplies and volunteering.

Equipment rental company United Rentals held a drive for a variety of supplies for Houston. Steve Davis, manager of the Auburn and Montgomery company branches, said they have collected five pallets of donations between the two cities.

“The drive was about just donating supplies, such as clothing, food, water, dog food, just essentials,” Davis said.

Davis said the drive began as an internal collection, a way that company employees could give back. However, they soon realized people in the community wanted to contribute too, and that United Rentals could help make that happen.

“There are people who want to help, but … shipping stuff can get expensive,” Davis said. “We ship a lot of stuff so we have really good pricing, we have really good relationships with truckers, or trucking companies, so I can ship stuff for probably cheaper than an individual could. So it’s just great for those individuals.”

Davis called the Birmingham/Montgomery radio station, Bluewater Broadcasting, who got the news about the drive out to the public. Davis said they received a big response in the three days they held the drive.

Ashleigh Pitts, a seventh grader at Opelika Middle School, started Hearts 2 Houston, a wattle bottle drive for the hurricane victims.

“On the news, like on Good Morning America, I saw pictures of stores selling water cases for $99,” Pitts said.

Many businesses in Texas were accused of price-gouging after Harvey hit. Best Buy apologized after a picture of a 24-pack of water on sale for $42 in one of their stores went viral last month.

Images like these prompted Pitts to collect water for the people of Houston. She received 230 donated bottles from Sept. 4–8.

One Auburn-founded company, Prevail Union Coffee, is addressing a need most people wouldn’t have considered. Wade Preston, co-owner of the company along with his wife Megan, knew he wanted to do something for Houston after the hurricane struck.

“We’re very far away and we’re a very small company,” he said. “We don’t have tons of resources, but we do have lots and lots of coffee.”

Drew Duvall, Prevail Union’s social media and marketing director, contacted the Houston Food Bank and asked if they were interested in coffee.

“And it turns out that they were very interested in coffee,” Preston said. “Coffee is something that not a lot of people are sending, because it just doesn’t hit the list of necessities that you need after emergency. But the reality is, they’ve got volunteers and staff who are working really long hours trying to meet the needs of the people there and coffee is actually quite a bit of a help to them.”

Prevail Union sent a shipment of coffee to the food bank immediately after the storm, but is also giving locals the opportunity to help out. Customers can donate $5 at retail locations and some wholesale stores to send a one-pound bag of coffee. They can include a handwritten note or picture on the bag as well. The coffee is then shipped weekly to Houston for the food bank employees and volunteers.

“We’ve sent about a hundred pounds of coffee to Houston so far,” Preston said.

Preston said the response so far has been great, that the idea has really clicked in people’s minds. The vast majority of donators have included written messages or pictures on their bags, an idea that Preston says originated from his 5-year-old daughter when she started drawing on some of the bags he was packing to ship.

“So hopefully it’s more than just coffee that’s showing up at a Houston Food Bank, but it’s also just a little bit of a reminder that there are people behind that who care and they are supporting from afar,” Preston said.

Some business and churches are going beyond supply drives and sending help in the form of people. Church of the Highlands, which has branches in Auburn and Opelika, started a Hurricane Harvey relief campaign. According to their website, besides collecting donations, they planned to send some relief teams into the disaster area.

Davis said United Rentals has sent several teams of people in to volunteer as well. The hurricane affected the company personally.

“There were over a hundred-something employees that were misplaced from their homes,” Davis said. “We’ve actually sent about five people from the Alabama area between Birmingham and Montgomery, mechanics, drivers, and stuff like that, to help in the recovery effort.”

Although some local supply drives have come to an end, including United Rentals’, Davis said people can continue to give now in other ways, such as to the American Red Cross.

“I hope people’s desire and passion doesn’t fade as time goes on,” he said.

The need for donations and help in Houston is still great. Preston said Prevail Union will continue shipping bags of coffee for the next few weeks at least.

“We’re going to keep sending coffee to the food bank until they don’t want anymore, until they feel like they’re back on their feet,” Preston said. “This may fade from the public memory in the next two or three weeks. It may not be the lead story in the newspapers because Donald Trump’s going to tweet something and we’ll all freak out about it. But we’re going to keep sending coffee.”

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