Huntsman workers distribute gift cards to Groves Harvey victims from flood fund formed by Jon Huntsman Sr. to help Southeast Texans

Residents of Dave Street in Groves were surprised to see plant workers in blue Nomex walking down their street early Wednesday afternoon. No, there was no plant emergency to announce in the wake of the disaster that was Hurricane Harvey. These homeowners, who were busy gutting their homes of smelly mold and pulling out sheetrock, were overjoyed by some good news for a change.

Looks from curious residents turned from solemn stares to smiles, as Huntsman Corporation plant workers, including Huntsman Port Neches Operations Site Director Chad Anderson and Senior Manager of Huntsman Kim Hoyt knocked on doors and offered $300 Walmart gift cards to residents.

“This will buy some much-needed groceries,” 64-year-old Eugene Jones said, when asked what he would do with the $300 Walmart gift card he received from Anderson on Oct. 4. “Wow, that is a big help! Thank you!”

The gift card was purchased by the Huntsman Flood Fund, a subsidiary of the Beaumont Foundation that was formed to directly support Southeast Texas residents affected by Hurricane Harvey.

In a special press conference Sept. 5 at the Jefferson County Courthouse, Jon Huntsman Sr. promised to help Southeast Texans get back on their feet by donating $1 million of his own personal money and another $1 million from the Huntsman Family Foundation to what was named the Huntsman Flood Fund. The Beaumont Foundation of America, which is managing the Huntsman Flood Fund as a separate 501(c)(3), added another $1 million to the cause thanks to contributions made by Wayne A. Reaud and Gilbert I. “Buddy” Low, bringing the total to $3 million. Huntsman challenged other business leaders to do the same.

According to Shataria Starr, manager, Corporate Communications for Huntsman Corporation, businesses have expressed interest in contributing to the Huntsman Flood Fund and will be able to do so after the 501(c)(3) designation is granted by the IRS.

“We’re focused on getting that set up, but identified the event that happened yesterday (in Groves) as a way for us to make an immediate impact on the community,” she said.

Eugene and his wife, Debbie, 58, are residents of Dave Street in Groves and received 20 inches of water in their home and 27 inches in their garage. They live at the end of the street near Highway 73. That end seemed to receive the worst of the flooding, according to William Harrington, who lives on the opposite end of the street from Jones. Harrington lives closer to Main Avenue and did not get water in his home, but nearly every house past his sustained water damage, he said.

“I think there are about 70 homes on that street,” Anderson said, pointing out that every home would receive a gift card. “You go into a neighborhood to where just about every home in that neighborhood was affected, you see a couple of things. I think what we really saw is people are very quickly trying to get back to their lives. … But there’s still a need. I think the folks who received the cards showed how much they appreciated somebody continuing to think about them, and they were very gracious for the helping hand.”

Through the Huntsman Flood Fund, 3,000 $300 gift cards were purchased, and about 2,400 of those will be distributed in the city of Groves, about 350 in Port Neches, 50 in Orange and 200 in Port Arthur, according to Anderson.

“We’re relying on the municipalities to give us a list of residents who were affected by rising water,” Anderson said.

Jones said he vividly remembers the day the water arrived at his home on Dave Street.

“Water crept up to the door but didn’t come in,” he said. But after the pumps failed at Drainage District 7, the water began seeping into his house, he said. “I thought it was just going to come up to the baseboards, but I was wrong.”

Deciding not to evacuate that night, Debbie slept on a table, and Eugene slept on a board lain across two bar stools.

“I woke up during the night, and my hand fell into the water,” he said.

Eugene and Debbie, like most of the residents on Dave Street, are moving on with their lives and rebuilding their homes. Eugene, a civil carpenter by trade who is currently living in his RV, said that he was fortunate to have flood insurance and hopes to be back in his home in January. And while the $300 gift card isn’t enough money to fix everything, it sure helps, Eugene said.

“When I heard Huntsman was giving them out, I said, ‘Wow’” Eugene said, adding that he drove his truck down the street to greet the workers in blue Nomex. “I don’t even work for Huntsman. … For Jon Huntsman Sr. to do this just shows the guy’s got heart.”

Overall, Huntsman-related parties have donated more than $10 million to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, according to the company.

Photo courtesy of the Huntsman Corporation -  Huntsman Senior Manager Kim Hoyt offers a gift card to Dave Street resident Denis Diltz, as Huntsman employees, including Site Director Chad Anderson, show their support.