Christmas Spirit Endures Despite Hardship Brought by Harvey

A small Christmas tree twinkles with multicolored lights inside a room at Motel 6.

Stockings are hung on the wall, and snowflakes are affixed to the windows.

Jaime Almanzar, 54, and his seven family members have been living at the motel in Victoria for the past four months since Hurricane Harvey.

Almanzar can't afford to repair his damaged two-bedroom home and is working odd jobs every day for food and basic necessities.

But he's grateful to have a safe place to lay his head.

Motel 6 left the light on for those needing a place to ride out the storm on Aug. 25 and since then has become a place families can stay as they work through the Federal Emergency Management Agency process.

The motel has 22 rooms occupied by displaced families in FEMA's Transitional Sheltering Assistance program.

Manager Yolanda Cervantes said she's seen how hard families are working to recover from Harvey.

"They're still fighting to get home," she told the Victoria Advocate.

In the meantime, she said several families have decorated their rooms for the holidays.

"They do whatever they can do to make it feel like home," she said.

Motel 6 also sustained damage during Harvey and is almost finished with repairs.

The swimming pool and the sign are next on the list.

But repairs to Almanzar's house are much slower.

The home where Almanzar raised his five daughters was uninsured, and he learned this week that FEMA won't help beyond the $530 in aid he received early on.

But that money is long gone, and he'll need a lot more to fix his home.

His hope is that once the home is repaired, he and his wife will move back in with three of their daughters.

A fourth daughter, her husband and their toddler might also stay there because they lost their apartment after Harvey.

Church volunteers helped tarp the hole in his roof and cleaned out the mud left behind when the Guadalupe River entered his house.

They also ripped out the walls to prevent mold.

The FEMA aid was only enough to replace the walls in his daughters' room.

The windows still need to be repaired, and the walls are down to the frame in most parts of his home.

Despite suffering from hernias, Almanzar works as often as he can doing yard work and manual labor.

His wife, Cecilia Flores, and their older daughters are also working, but he said the costs are still overwhelming.

At one point, he almost fell victim to a phone scam promising money after purchasing a Walmart gift card.

Luckily his family warned him before it was too late and they reported the call to the police.

The family is often washing clothes at the motel with quarters and driving to their home to dry loads of laundry. The washer didn't survive the storm. Neither did the family's hamster. But their two Chihuahuas survived.

Most days, he's optimistic and his tanned, aged face is set in a big smile.

But when there's just a few dollars left to his name and he's tired, his mind wanders and he contemplates whether the daily struggle to survive is worth it.

That's usually when he says God provides.

"You can't have too much pride," he said. "There's no shame in asking for help."

And that's exactly what happened this week.

The nonprofit organizations that have helped Almanzar's family stay afloat came through for the holidays.

He attended a free dinner at Christ's Kitchen and was given $20 for gas and some bread and soups.

While he was at the soup kitchen, Almanzar was handed $100 in gift cards.

An employee of Victoria Independent School District, where two of his daughters attend, also came by the motel with an H-E-B gift card to help with groceries. The family, meanwhile, was able to buy some small Christmas gifts.

He said he just wanted to have everyone together this Christmas, wherever that is.

"Sometimes you think you have it bad, but other people have it worse," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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