Jared Thomas, a Denton musician, planned to go to Nashville to spend the week writing and schmoozing with music industry people when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in late August. Instead, he loaded up his backyard grills, his family and two friends and headed toward Houston.
“I just told my wife we needed to go down there,” says Thomas, 35, who’s opened for Pat Green, Cody Canada and Stoney Larue. “She was like, ‘Aren’t you going to Nashville?’ ‘I’m not going to Nashville. I’m going down there to cook.’”
Thomas had no idea what awaited them.
He figured they’d be there for a short time and maybe feed about 300 people when they set up the grills in the parking lot of the Market Basket grocery in Orange, a small town 30 miles west of Beaumont. He’d gotten 175 pounds of meat at a discounted rate from Outlaw Burgers in Justin and 600 hamburger buns from Mrs. Baird’s in Denton.
Four days later, Thomas was still cooking. During the group's time in Orange, it fed approximately 6,000 people affected by the hurricane.
“We were running low on meat and bread, and people who were down there would show up and give us their freezer contents ... an ice chest full of food and asked if we’ll cook it,” Thomas says. “One couple showed up with truck bed of shredded turkey meat.”
Thomas is no stranger to helping people. In 2014, when a wildfire roared through the Texas panhandle where he grew up, Thomas put together a benefit show. He says he raised $23,000 to help those affected by the fires, including family members and friends.
When Thomas got to the Houston area the morning of Sept. 2, he wasn’t quite sure where to go. He’d been used to seeing landmarks as an oilfield worker in the area, but everything was underwater.
“It was just seeing houses destroyed and seeing the roofs of cars and boats where you normally wouldn’t see them,” he recalls. “It’s just like, holy shit, that’s a lot of water.”
Thomas used the Kello app, which acts as two-way radio, and got in touch with the Cajun Navy, a volunteer group of private boat owners who help in search-and-rescue efforts in Louisiana and other southern coastal areas. He found that people were meeting at the grocery store in Orange.
Another crew had been cooking for people when Thomas arrived but planned to leave the area at noon that day. Thomas had made it just in time to take over. His family slept in the pickup, but he stayed up most nights preparing to provide three meals a day. He met up with friend and fellow guitarist Ryan Summers, who’d been in the area helping with rescues and doing supply runs.
Summers brought about 700 pounds of meat and 500 pounds of prepared barbecue a couple of days after Thomas arrived, when he'd run out of food.
"We were working in Orange, where there were people from below poverty line and people who were upper middle class, and the desperation was the same," Summers says. "People were just hungry. It was a pretty grounding experience to be able to help."
He was impressed by Thomas' dedication. "He’s got a heart [of] gold, man," he said. "He didn’t stop."
Thomas’ two young daughters, Gibson and Lily, gave out water, their toys and two boxes of toys they’d gotten from Chuck E. Cheese, which, Thomas says, also donated food. He was so moved by the experience that he returned Sept. 11 for a day run to drop off supplies.
On his way there, he stopped in Austin and met a woman from on her way to Chicago who gave him a trailer filled with tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses and other camping necessities. When Thomas arrived, hr met up with his friend Beau Sullivan, who distributed the donated supplies to people who were sleeping in cargo trailers and building campfires in their driveways because their homes were flooded.
Thomas also hosted a recent benefit show for victims of Hurricane Harvey at Landmark Bar & Kitchen in Fort Worth. It was his birthday, but he didn’t raise very much money.
“It was dead,” he says. “The Cowboys game killed it.”
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Thomas also plans to participate in a Harvey relief concert Oct. 8 at Rockin’ Rodeo in Denton. Another is planned for Oct. 15 at the Magnolia Motor Lounge in Fort Worth. And he wants to make another trip to Houston to help out.
“People would send me messages about good karma and this helping my music career,” Thomas says. “But the best thing about it was watching my kids and seeing that giving nature like their mom and dad.”