Two Years After Harvey, Wharton County Works and Waits

The story of Harvey flooding in a rural area like Wharton County doesn’t include the numbers of households impacted, and the billions of dollars of damage like in Harris County. But just 60 miles away from Houston, the people of Wharton County still share the same suffering of waiting for help, and the fear of being forgotten. St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Wharton has been the hands and heart of Christ to some of the waiting ones.

Pattie Odom, a member of St. Thomas, is the Administrative Director of the Wharton County Recovery Team. Odom lived in Louisiana and had previous experience with hurricane relief work. Odom and her family moved to Wharton the week of Harvey, unloaded a moving van, only to discover that they would have to evacuate.

At first, the people of Wharton County thought they were spared the worst of Harvey. The rain was heavy, but it did not seem to approach the 50 inches of rain that pummeled Houston.  Some Wharton families took in relatives who needed to evacuate the Bayou City, but within hours, the Colorado River drowned the surrounding land with fast, rising water from upstream rainfall and runoff. Racing through cropland, town streets, farmhouses and local businesses, farmers lost crops of cotton and soybeans to mildew. Century-old homes buckled from water-weakened boards and damaged foundations. Water wells collapsed and cesspool systems were compromised, with many still non-functioning a whole two years later.

The next wave of the disaster for those who did have insurance were rejections of claims due to loopholes in policies. Rural counties experience a high rate of impact per capita of households but often are overshadowed by the numbers in urban areas.  In a population of many elderly people living alone in houses that they cannot repair themselves; the sense of abandonment is palpable.

What Odom learned quickly about her new hometown is that the people of Wharton have resiliency in their favor. The rural strength of knowing their neighbors and shouldering difficulties together would be stretched – but it would remain intact during this disaster.  The Wharton County Recovery Team, which had remained functioning since the county’s prior flooding events, was well-positioned to immediately jump into action to assist the flooded and the displaced. In addition to Odom, other members of St. Thomas are still engaging in long term Harvey recovery through a variety of ministries. The church and the Episcopal Diocese of Texas (EDOT) partner together to provide resources to highly vulnerable families who have exhausted all other avenues of assistance. 

Still, there are homes that need to be either elevated or abandoned by homeowners, depending upon financial means. For many others, families who resolve to do their own repair work live in their wrecked homes that are health risks for those in good health as well as poor. The elderly who are living alone in the homes in which they grew up, have no place to go as they dwell in deep despair, waiting for help. Many wait for rebuilding grants, but the process is long and frustrating. Furthermore, receiving approval for funding doesn’t mean construction. It means another round of waiting: for funding to arrive, for workers to be hired, and for volunteers to arrive, so that the work may begin. Wharton both works and waits.

One example of the ways in which the EDOT Harvey Recovery program can offer assistance where other organizations cannot is with water wells. Floodwater contamination means that even today residents are still boiling water for drinking and eating. EDOT’s program is known as “the most flexible funder at the table,” but our resources do not stop at funding. At this stage of Harvey recovery, we need volunteers more than ever – and this holds true for unskilled volunteers and youth volunteers. What dollars can do more than doubles when volunteers are on the scene, and this means that more than double the number of families receive help.  Wharton works, Wharton waits and Wharton invites.

Our Wharton County neighbors are proud and independent folks who don’t want to be a bother to anyone. They speak like warriors in a battle, like comrades in arms. The hurricane is not over if they leave behind anyone who needs help. Until all receive assistance with dignity, they wait and work. 

You can help your neighbors in Wharton County through donations or through volunteering. Connect with your diocesan Harvey recovery team at

The road to recovering from Harvey is long, and we are far from finished. “Let us not grow weary in doing what is good” (Galatians 6:9).

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, through its partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development and the diocesan Quin Foundation, is reaching out to assist families for whom conventional disaster recovery mechanisms fall short. Contact the Hurricane Recovery team members The Rev. Stacy Stringer, Kecia Mallette, or Suzanne Hollifield at


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