Last week’s fascinating glimpse into the lives of hummingbirds led to another compelling story regarding the lengths people go to, trying to save them when threatened.

The Aransas area received the first hit of Hurricane Harvey, flattening the little town of Rockport shortly before millions of hummingbirds were due to arrive for their strenuous flight across the Gulf of Mexico. Bird lovers from across the nation make pilgrimages, in busloads, to see the migration and tour homes assisting the birds with feeders. Hummingbirds must add 35 percent to their weight for the flight.

A little lady named Rhonda Cantu managed to get out of Rockport to make a call to Kevin Pillow of Wild Birds Unlimited in Kerrville. Yes, yes, she was OK, but she was very worried about the hummingbirds as everything was a mess. Kevin soon found himself in our local H-E-B grocery looking for supplies. 

Water aisles were empty, but as he pushed 400-500 pounds of sugar, he ran into a client of his store who commented he must really be planning to bake cookies (Kevin customarily provides fresh ones each morning). The fact that he was gathering supplies for hummingbirds circulated through H-E-B until total strangers were pressing bills into his hands. Baby water in 3-gallon packs was found. Preparing to pay at checkout, he found another man had covered it with his credit card.

He went back and emptied his store of feeders, poles and ant traps. Hummingbirds also need plants, for insects and water they find in blossoms. He contacted Trena Cullins of Plant Haus to buy native plants. Instead she donated a huge quantity. 

Finally, they took pictures of a very heavily laden truck, posted them on Facebook, and Kevin took off on the four-and-a-half-hour trip to Rockport. Every third vehicle was laden with donations. It was interesting to learn what is helpful in a situation like this. Tires are in big demand because of roads full of nails and glass — also gasoline to run generators, chain saws and cars. There were long lines for gas. Many donors send clothes, which are often in the way, e.g. a stack of turtlenecks. Nobody wore them in steamy 100 degree heat. I said people should learn what’s needed, but it’s difficult, CB radios being the only functional communication. At least, people should use their heads. Kevin said professionals are really best to handle such devastation.

Capable workers can be valuable. Kevin, a large strong man, helped lift trees off roads. Finding Ms. Cantu was not easy, although he knew Rockport well. Street signs and recognizable markers were gone, buildings a pile of rubble. As he searched, he saw a man leading a horse, street by street. Finally, he asked if he could help. The man was looking for his mobile home and agreed to ride with Kevin, leading the horse, until they found it — demolished. But the man was happy; his horse survived and contentedly moved into familiar pasture.

He insisted on buying Kevin some barbecue. Gulf residents preparing to ride out storms cook and freeze lots of barbecue so they will have something to eat before help arrives. A female survivor said the hurricane was incredibly terrifying. Her advice is, “Don’t stay; get out!” Kevin eventually found Ms. Cantu to unload supplies. He advises, “Never leave with an empty truck; fill it with debris.”

In Kerrville, Kevin found his wife, Linda, taking calls, making notes. The Facebook picture made it a national project — 1,100 people calling between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. They promised all donations would be used 100 percent and, within two days, acknowledged over $16,000. It became a logistical nightmare for Linda and the staff, and necessitated nine trips for Kevin. 

Master Naturalist Organization in Dallas collected feeders. Barbara Raspiene of King Ranch offered a plan to maintain the feeders. Through Facebook’s Hummingbirds Anonymous, $15,000 was donated. A special little girl contributed $6, one for each year of her life, saying, “Take care of Grandma’s hummingbirds.” Only now are the Pillows recovering, but he is super proud of his staff and those who aided this supreme effort.

I asked if helping hummingbirds got in the way of helping people. He said no, this enabled his six “Angels” (distributors) and volunteers incapable of heavy work to do something valuable. Final cash went to the Aransas Pathways Foundation and Rockport Festival to help prepare for the next Rubythroat migration. 

Verna, who lives in Kerrville, worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, which took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.

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