The lights were still on at a North Texas bar during the state’s snowpocalypse, and a lightbulb went off in the owners' heads. Soon, the venue would become a community center for neighbors suffering through power outages.
“Everyone was out of power, so we decided to call the Rail Club to see if it still had power, and sure enough it did," says the venue’s co-owner Chris Polone. “We just decided we have a room, we have power, we have heat and we have running water. Let’s do this.”
Armed with previous experience handling hazardous situations, Polone, 28, says the bar’s staff, along with a group of volunteers, answered and responded to more than 1,300 calls during the crisis. He estimates that throughout the week, about 300 volunteers, collectively, helped out as the calls for help kept coming.
“She’s in a wheelchair asking for some water,” posted Katie Baxley-Tosch to the Rail Club Live!’s Facebook page regarding a neighbor.
A family hadn’t eaten for days, Polone says. Entire apartment complexes were without water. Some had been sleeping on frozen sidewalks.
“When I told people what we needed [through Facebook Live], it showed up,” he says. “The community got the word out.
“It wasn’t us,” he continues. “We had the four walls. We had the building. We had the heat. But it was the community.”
Polone, who describes the bar as “broke” and facing permanent closure, says although things are looking grim and there was no money for food, or anything else, people stepped up just as they have throughout the pandemic.
“The community is 100 percent the reason my kids had birthday presents in 2020, the reason my kids had Christmas presents, the reason I had groceries,” he says. “They took care of my staff. We’ll ... I’ll die for them.”
A handful of people stayed overnight at the bar this past Monday, Polone says, and more began trickling in. Last Wednesday, a call for volunteers resulted in six cars, driven mostly by people whom he’d never met, heading out to Lancaster Avenue to whisk about a dozen men and women off the street and out of the icy temperatures. The following morning, volunteers began organizing supplies, coordinating efforts, manning the phones, picking up more people up and delivering supplies such as food, water, diapers and dog food for service animals to people in Fort Worth and other places near Dallas, North Richland Hills and White Settlement.
“It was truly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” he says. “People working hand-in-hand, the undesirables, the disposables, the unwanted, the haves and the have-nots all working together to serve. It was literally the opposite of a soup kitchen.”
And the supplies kept rolling in. Someone went to Weatherford to buy as many cases of bottled water as they could find. A company hauled in three portable toilets through snow and ice from Burleson at no charge. Several hundred blankets were bussed in and a motorcycle club delivered 100 more.
By Friday, Polone was in the hospital.
“We had worn the same clothes for days,” he says, explaining that a hose attached to the club’s soda fountain began spewing water, and some water had gotten into his shoes. “A couple hours later, my foot had swelled up twice its size.”
After being treated for sepsis, Polone was back at the bar early Saturday morning.
“Every single one of us have a different perspective on life right now,” he says.
Polone remembers how children had sprinted to him, as if he were a United Nations peacekeeper, when volunteers showed up with cases of bottled water.
Polone notes that he and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price are not the best of friends. His is one of a group of Fort Worth bars that defied shutdown orders in June by remaining open. In July, he organized a statewide bar protest against Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order to keep bars closed.
Polone now cringes at the thought that they could’ve done more last week. He says that although Price acknowledged the Rail Club Live! as a source for help in a press briefing, it was days before the information was placed on a list of warming facilities on the city’s website.
“This hurts me more than words can describe because we could’ve helped these people the whole time, if only they would have known that we were doing it,” he says.
He recalls his reaction after learning that apartments not but a half a mile from his home had been without water for days.
“I about threw up, because they’re right there," he says. “Like, those are our people.”
An email response from Price indicated that the city’s Joint Emergency Operation Center team had worked around the clock to provide resources and communicate about those resources to the community.
“We began listing available city-run warming stations on our website as they came together and updated that list as they were modified to best meet the needs of the people using them,” reads the statement. “As we learned about the many community-run warming stations being opened by churches, nonprofits and businesses, we opened up an online form for organizations to submit their information to the City so those locations could be shared as well.”
The Rail Club Live! was included on the list of community-run warming stations on the city website’s main “closures” page where all emergency response information was kept, read the statement.
According to Polone, “nothing else mattered” at the time but helping out.
Price says she deeply appreciates how “organizations and businesses opened their doors and shared their resources with their neighbors during the incredibly challenging days we faced last week.”
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