Courtney Adams, 33, watched in despair from thousands of miles away in Auburn as parts of her hometown of Kingwood, Texas, flooded when Hurricane Harvey struck southeastern Texas in August.
Adams, a mother of three, said she felt “helpless” in the moment and relied on prayer to figure out how she could help.
She started a Facebook group, Holidays for Harvey, with the idea of matching people from across the country with families in need in the Houston area.
“I sat down and created a group on Facebook and I just started sharing it,” Adams said. “People started joining and asking for help and people started offering to help and give back.”
One of the first people to volunteer was Lori Martin, a mother of three from Pennsylvania who is friends with Adams but did not have a direct connection to Houston.
Martin and her family volunteered to provide Christmas for a husband and wife and their 17-year-old daughter whose home was hit hard by Harvey.
“The mom said she and her husband wanted nothing and they just wanted a nice day for their daughter,” said Martin, who purchased gift cards for the teen and is surprising her parents with gifts too. “I wrapped everything that I got individually because there is something special about opening a present on Christmas morning.”
Rachel Nicholson and her family will have presents to open on Christmas morning too, thanks to Adams.
Nicholson, a childhood friend of Adams’, gave birth to her third son just days before Harvey hit.
She and her newborn and two young sons had to be evacuated by boat as the first floor of their home flooded.
Nicholson and her family have been living in a rental home, relying on their savings, until their home is rebuilt.
“All of our money is going back into our house and the last thing you think about is presents,” said Nicholson. “Our boys deserve a Christmas and a home and not being displaced. I don’t want what happened to affect their memories of Christmas.”
Adams took Nicholson’s sons’ Christmas wish lists and had the gifts delivered to the family’s door.
“Now we have the presents under the tree thanks to Courtney,” Nicholson said. “She has been an angel and has orchestrated a movement. She really has.”
Adams was aided in her Christmas movement by two friends in Auburn who volunteered their time to help. Together, the three women have arranged Christmas for 188 families in the Houston area, totaling 620 kids and 1,045 family members.
Robinn Graves’ family includes five of those 620 kids.
Graves, her husband and their five children were evacuated from their Porter, Texas, home in a rescue truck when water began to overtake the home's first floor.
They got back into their house a few days after Harvey struck, and have been living in a construction zone ever since, with all their time and money going toward rebuilding.
“We have lots of Christmas traditions and we’ve had to cut back on what we can do, both financially and time wise,” said Graves. “We’ve had to spend all our time on the house and it’s taken a lot away from our family and the kids.”
Graves’ family was matched with a woman in New Jersey who is providing Christmas gifts for all five kids, ranging in age from 17 to 2.
The woman told her boyfriend and her daughter that she only wanted money for Christmas so that she could donate to charity, according to Graves.
“A couple of weeks ago they sent us a pre-lit Christmas tree,” said Graves. “That was our first sign of hope, that tree and the lights.”
Graves provided her kids’ wish lists -- which included practical items like a lamp and books for the older kids and a broom for the 2-year-old, who watches her parents clean the house -- and the presents are due to arrive next week.
“Without her, Christmas would have been over in a minute,” Graves said. “And we’ve connected on a personal level because we know how we’re a blessing to each other. She’s blessed because she’s able to help and we’re blessed to have her help.”
Adams said Graves and her donor have accomplished exactly what she set out to do.
“I wanted the families to know that we do love you guys, we know you’re still out there and that the rebuilding process hasn’t even begun for some,” she said. “They’re still trying to find normalcy and Christmas was just my foot in the door to get that.”
She continued, "To see the families that are supported and to hear how something so simple can bring so much to them, it’s just a good reminder that less is more. It’s all about the relationships we make as opposed to the stuff we think we need to make us happy."