HOUSTON — Kelvin Sampson was watching news coverage of Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday when he saw an image he won’t soon forget.
“There was a lady who had her first-grader (son) on one hip and a 4- or 5-year-old on the other hip,” Sampson told The Robesonian by phone on Tuesday.
“There was a volunteer that had a boat going down a normal highway to these apartments to pick up this lady and her two kids, who were standing in floodwater. That image just stuck in my mind. They lost everything, with nothing left but the clothes on their backs.”
A 61-year-old Robeson County native and graduate of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Sampson, who hasn’t been able to leave his house since Friday, felt a call to action.
Sampson, the current head men’s basketball coach at the University of Houston, called his son, Kellen, an assistant on Houston’s staff, and his daughter Lauren, the director of external operations for the men’s basketball program, to brainstorm how to help the victims of the catastrophic flooding in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Harvey, which hit as a Category 4 hurricane, is now a tropical storm, but continues to drop rain that already has caused devastating flooding. As many as 50 inches are expected in some places.
“There’s gotta be something we can do,” Sampson told his son.
With his entire team accounted for and safe on or around Houston’s campus, Sampson took to Twitter on Monday afternoon with a challenge for his coaching counterparts across the nation — donate 20 shirts and 10 pairs of shoes to help those who have lost everything.
“It’s been a tough time. Words can’t describe the devastation and carnage. Entire families are leaving (their homes) with just the clothes on their backs,” Sampson said. “Coaches who have basketball camps always have spare shirts or gear. … especially with new gear coming in for the season. Coaches want to help and you see those visuals on TV and how bad it is and your heart goes out to those people.”
Sampson said the response has been “overwhelming,” with support coming from 600 to 700 schools, including Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, UNCP and Wake Forest.
“Reading through texts, the state of North Carolina is heavily represented,” Sampson said.
Sampson said he’s received calls or texts from UNCP men’s basketball coach Ben Miller, former UNCP coach and athletic director Dan Kenney, North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, Duke men’s basketball assistant coach Jeff Capel and N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts.
Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari called Sampson and said he was sending a $150,000 check in addition to gear.
“Because of the images, being here in the middle of everything, you get emotional because you know you’re doing a good thing,” Sampson said. “Every coach would be doing the same thing if they were in this situation. We’re all a member of our community. We should take care of each other.”
Schools from all levels — Division I, II, III, NAIA, junior college and high schools — have pledged support.
And it’s not just the men’s basketball programs. Women’s programs are doing their part, along with lacrosse and softball teams across the nation.
Sampson said other individuals and organizations also have reached out to show their support, as have people from Canada and Puerto Rico.
“I had a company contact me this morning saying, ‘We’re not a sports team but we have portable phone chargers,’” Sampson said. “It’s gone global. The more gear, the more items we can get distributed, the more people we can help. … that’s what it’s all about. Nothing else.”
Another Robeson County native lives in Austin but is seeing the devastation from a hurricane for the second time.
Blake Tyner, a St. Pauls native who worked at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke for many years and served as director of the Robeson County History Museum, rode out Hurricane Matthew on 18th Street in Lumberton and moved to Texas just five weeks ago.
Some parts of the state have had 30 inches of rain, more than twice what Matthew dumped on Robeson County.
“We’re not measuring rain in inches at this point,” Tyner said. “It’s eerie to think that just a few months ago I was dealing with Hurricane Matthew. I didn’t think about the possibility of hurricanes in Texas. We’re about two hours north and west of Houston.”
As for Houston, the next step for Sampson and company will be distributing the items once they arrive.
“We have to get U-Haul trucks to help the mail service with all of this and we’ll ask volunteers in the Houston area to help sort the clothing sizes,” Sampson said.
For people interested in helping, Sampson said there are a number of items that will be needed in addition to the clothing.
“Prepaid phone cards for communicating, toiletries. … everything you send can help,” Sampson said. “(Houston Mayor) Sylvester Turner, a Houston grad, does a great job with his leadership. Anything you can send will be used. Send $10 or $20 — these people need money, too. The stuff we’re doing will make a difference, but these people have lost everything.”
A local effort in Robeson County has been launched by the National Association of Christian Churches to collect items to truck to Texas. The association has been assisting with Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts for almost a year.
“We are taking nonperishable foods, water, cleaning supplies, bleach, and clothing. Anything that they want to bring in we will get it to the people of Houston,” Pastor Jose Ortega said.
Items can be dropped off at warehouse No. 4 at 2130 W. Fifth St. from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. Shipments are planned for every two days.
Visit http://www.uhcougars.com/genrel/082817aaa.html for more information on how to help.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.