When Hurricane Harvey made landfall late last month, the country could only watch as the storm brought unprecedented destruction to the state of Texas. This deluge poured more than 24.5 trillion gallons of water into the region, with parts of Houston receiving more than 50 inches of rain. The Category 4 Storm left 82 people dead, more than 94,000 homes damaged or destroyed, and forced more than 30,000 residents into emergency shelters. In the face of such tragedy, relief efforts began throughout the country. Across Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties, State Senator Terrence Murphy launched an initiative to “Fill a Truck for Texas.” In support of this program, Pawling officials, residents, and several local businesses would band together to collect supplies, and ultimately send an 18-wheel tractor-trailer directly to Texas to aid in relief efforts.
The genesis for the “Fill a Truck” idea came from a conversation between friends and lifelong Pawling residents Gary Tiso, who owns Tiso & Associates Trucking, and James Schmitt, owner of Schmitt Excavating. “Gary had a truck that was heading down to Texas that had extra space, and it got us thinking about sending supplies down to help,” Schmitt explains. “Then we thought, why not send an entire truck instead? So I reached out to Terrence Murphy, and he really stepped up to the plate.” Tiso would not only volunteer the use of a company truck, he would also volunteer to drive the supplies to Texas. “Given the business I am in,” says Tiso, “I figured we could get the community to help, and we could get relief to those who may need it.” Tiso, who also aided in relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy, recognized the need for everyone to combine their efforts to help those in need. “Years ago I had the opportunity to deliver materials from my previous employer to the Rockaways in New York after Sandy,” he adds. “It was a war zone, and people needed support. When Harvey came I knew they would need help.”
Other local businesses also aided in the relief effort. Bottini Fuel of Wappinger’s Falls donated 400 gallons of fuel for the delivery truck. Clancy Relocation and Logistics provided more than 500 boxes to aid in packing and organization. Finally, employees of Schmitt Excavating were tasked with going from town to town to collect and transport items to the donation center in Yorktown. Every municipality from southern Dutchess County to Yonkers contributed supplies to the relief effort.
Before Gary Tiso could make the journey to Texas, volunteers had to undertake the task of accepting, sorting, and packing the massive amount of materials donated by the communities. To accomplish this, officials organized a week-long donation station at the Acme supermarket in Yorktown Heights starting on September 4. There, a team of more than 30 volunteers would aid in the effort, including members of Senator Murphy’s staff and volunteers from Schmitt Excavating in Pawling. Among the volunteers was Pawling Town Councilman Bill Johnson. “I would like to thank Gary Tiso for donating his truck and his time to drive the donations to Texas and also James Schmitt and Senator Murphy for providing the platform to make this happen,” he says. “I also want to thank the people of Pawling who generously donated a very full truck load of supplies. I was glad to be able to spend a day helping sorting and loading the truck.”
By weeks end, the volunteers accomplished their goal and filled the truck to capacity. In total, more than 42,000 pounds of supplies were collected. These donations included 10,000 bottles of water, 10 skids of baby supplies, 12 skids of non-perishable food, and 25,000 pounds of clothing. In addition, the truck also carried cribs, personal hygiene items, and school supplies. “We packed an entire tractor trailer in under a week,” says Schmitt. “It was really great the way this all came together.”
On September 8, with the supplies packed, the responsibility then fell to Tiso to deliver the supplies to Texas. Departing from Yorktown Heights, he would deliver the donations to a Red Cross and Salvation Army relief site in Texas City, TX. The journey was 3,483 miles round trip, exacting a total of 55 hours of driving time. “It was a great experience,” says Tiso. “It makes the whole country seem a little smaller and more united when we come together and help one another.”
Hurricane Harvey caused an estimated $180 billion worth of damage to Texas. Worse still is the emotional toll taken on the 13 million people who were forced to flee their homes because of the devastation. However, tragedies have a way of bringing citizens closer, as we all come together as Americans. “Almost sixteen years ago to the day, New Yorkers and the nation were devastated by the tragic events that took place on September 11,” says Senator Murphy. “The people of Texas came to our aid when we were in dire need of help. We wanted them to know we have their backs. When it comes to helping one another, there is no Republican way, no Democratic way, just the right way.”